On August 2, 2021, comedian Kathy Griffin shared the sad news that she has been diagnosed with lung cancer and was headed into surgery to have half of her left lung removed. The Instagram post in which she announced her diagnosis was quickly flooded with messages from thousands of people wishing her a speedy recovery and sending their love.
Given the nature of Kathy’s diagnosis, some are also wondering whether the lung cancer may have been caused by smoking. Here’s what we know.
Was Kathy Griffin’s lung cancer caused by smoking?
According to the American Cancer Society, smoking tobacco is the leading cause of lung cancer, and it leads by a wide margin: Nearly 80 percent of lung cancer deaths are the result of smoking tobacco. However, in Kathy’s announcement, she specifically states that she has never smoked.
Although smoking tobacco is the most common risk factor for developing lung cancer, it is completely possible to get lung cancer without smoking a single cigarette. Lung cancer can also be caused by exposure to radon, secondhand smoke, asbestos, diesel exhaust, or air pollution. Some people also develop the disease even if they are not exposed to any of the above known risk factors.
Although Kathy Griffin doesn’t smoke, she did battle an addiction to painkillers.
Smoking tobacco has never been a problem for Kathy and she also says she has never had an alcoholic drink in her life, but she has recently spoken publicly about her struggle with an addiction to painkillers. In an interview for an episode of ABC’s Nightline, Kathy says that her addiction eventually led to her making a suicide attempt.
“I thought, ‘Well, I don't even drink… Big deal, I take a couple pills now and again, who doesn't? Also, my age was a big part of it. I mean, who bottoms out and tries to take their life at 59? It's almost a joke, right, and by the way, someday, this will all be comedy. Trust me … I was laughing to stay alive. And what I found is I felt like if I can't make others laugh, then there's no purpose for me to live. There's no reason for me to live.”
“I really fell in love with them,” Kathy says of the painkillers she was addicted to. “Then, it was kind of the allure of, ‘Oh, I can regulate my energy levels or my moods. Or ... I fell on my elbow in my act or something and I can be pain-free or something.’ And it got out of control very rapidly.”
Happily, Kathy received treatment for her addiction and now has more than one full year of sobriety under her belt. And although her cancer diagnosis was a shock to the system, it seems as though doctors were able to catch the disease early. “It's stage 1. It's nowhere else in my body,” Kathy said of the lung cancer. “So I need to focus on that.”
What are the symptoms of lung cancer?
In its earliest stages, lung cancer doesn’t typically cause many symptoms, so regular health screenings are of the utmost importance — especially for those who smoke. If there are symptoms, they may include a persistent cough, coughing up blood (even a small amount), shortness of breath, chest pain, hoarseness, or a sudden loss of weight.
It should also be mentioned that quitting smoking can significantly reduce the chances of developing lung cancer, even in people who have smoked regularly for many years. If you are concerned about your health or are interested in quitting smoking, reach out to your doctor or visit smokefree.gov.
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.