Dana Reeve's death begs question: how do nonsmokers get lung cancer?

By: Laurie Ott
By: Laurie Ott

Dana Reeve died at a New York cancer hospital Monday night.

She was the widow of actor Christopher Reeve, best known for his role as the big screen's “Superman”.

Mrs. Reeve was just 44 years old when she died from lung cancer--after living a smoke-free life.

The news of Dana Reeve's death from lung cancer has many people wondering how a woman who never smoked could have gotten sick.

The fact is, it could happen to any woman, at any time.

She was a talented singer and actress in her own right--but we'll all remember Dana Reeve for being a super wife to Superman.

Her husband, actor Christopher Reeve, died in 2004 from complications of his paralysis from a horse riding accident.

Less than a year later, Dana Reeve found out she had lung cancer.

“Well, it isn't fair but I think I learned a long time ago that life isn't fair,” she said.

Many of us were surprised to hear that a woman in her early 40s could be diagnosed with a cancer most of us associate with smoking.

"There are these cases, especially common in women, that get no small cell lung cancer and have never smoked, or never been around smokers," says Dr. Paul Bilodeau is a medical oncologist at MCG.

He's diagnosed hundreds of lung cancers.

Dr. Bilodeau says most lung cancers can be traced back to a cause…and that that should be our focus.

"I think that some attention needs to be refocused on smoking cessation, let's prevent those that we can prevent."

But again, Dana Reeve was among those 11,000 non-smoking women diagnosed with the disease each year...and sadly, the survival rates are grim.

"I'm afraid until we have genetic mutations or know the cause in non smokers, we feel powerless to do anything to prevent it."

Again, the frustrating thing about lung cancer is that there's no early detection of it, and there's no real treatment or cure.

So until then, the best thing you can do is stop smoking--and stay away from secondhand smoke.


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