RALEIGH, N.C. — Before she was diagnosed with lung cancer in September 2007, 40-year-old Melita Hunt thought she was as healthy as anybody she knew.
Then, she asked the same question over and over. How did she get lung cancer, considered by many to be a smoker's disease, when she never smoked?
Lung cancer kills more people than breast, prostate, colon, liver, kidney and melanoma cancers combined. Even if you don't smoke, you are not immune from it.
"Quite a few people get lung cancer who've never smoked," said Dr. David White, a thoracic surgeon at Duke University Medical Center.
In fact, 15 percent of lung cancer patients never smoked.
White says he's not so focused on the causes of the disease, however. He's focused on saving lives by raising money for research through the annual Free to Breathe event
The event, which consists of a one-mile run/walk, 5K run/walk and a 100-yard kid's dash, begins Saturday at 9 a.m. on the North Carolina State University Centennial Campus at Main Campus Drive and Campus Shore Drive.
The main goal, White says, is to help find a screening test that's more effective.
"For years, all we've had is a chest X-ray and more recently. CT scans," White said. Even the best imaging often only detects lung tumors when they are advanced and spreading.
White would also like to offer more effective treatment.
For Hunt, radiation was ineffective, but she's responded well to chemotherapy.
"It's actually gone from a big round-like lemon inside my lung to practically nothing," she said.
Meanwhile, she wants to help others with lung cancer by shattering misconceptions about the disease.
"I hope that people recognize that it isn't looking for what caused it, it's looking for what makes it better," she said.