Breaking News
More () »

'This is a big mystery': UC Davis researchers looking into why non-smoking Asian American women are developing lung cancer

An estimated 57% of Asian American women diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked compared to about 15% of all other women, according to UC Davis.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Researchers are looking into why a silent lung cancer is affecting non-smoking Asian American women and are asking folks affected to participate in research to learn more. 

Susan Sun Huang came to Sacramento from China in 1986 With her husband Peter and their two children, Amy and Jesse.

“She's very kind. She's generous and warm and people loved to be around her,” said Amy Tong, Susan’s daughter. “She's like the rock in our family, the glue that pulls us together."

Susan sings in her community choir and noticed she had a cough after practicing one night. She went to the doctors and testing led to a devastating lung cancer diagnosis. 

"There was a moment I still remember: mom sent my dad and brother out of the room. She said, ‘I need a moment to talk to the oncologist.’ And then afterward she shared with us her question to her: ‘how much time do I have?’"

The family says the news came out of nowhere, that Susan had been healthy her whole life, was not a smoker and had no second hand smoke exposure.

It’s something baffling doctors. 

“This is a big mystery,” said Dr. Moon Chen, a UC Davis cancer researcher. "The cancer burden affecting Asian Americans is unique. We are the first U.S. racial group to experience cancer as the leading cause of death. All other Americans, the leading cause of death is heart disease."

An estimated 57% of Asian American women diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked compared to about 15% of all other women, according to UC Davis.

These numbers have led to UC Davis’ Comprehensive Cancer Center to raise awareness about the deadly cancer and promote a unique opportunity to help research the causes.

Female Asian Never Smoker (FANS) is a first-of-its-kind study of lung cancer in Asian American women who have never smoked.

Sacramento County is now joining other counties in California with large Asian American populations and enrolling participants into the study. 

Amy is now one of the many volunteers helping to look for an answer. 

"Anything we can do to prevent another family from going through this, is the goal here,” she said. “All we're asking is one family at a time."

Susan died from non-smoking lung cancer last year, but her legacy lives on and is part of the effort to save lives. 

Researchers are encouraging Asian American women between the ages of 21 to 90 who have been diagnosed with lung cancer but have never smoked to participate in the study.

All participants need to do is fill out a survey and give a small saliva sample. Participants will get a $75 gift card as a thanks from UC Davis. 

Those interested in joining this study are encouraged to contact fansstudy@ucsf.edu or call 833-326-7883.

WATCH MORE: Parents of fentanyl poisoning victims pushing on despite California lawmakers slow to act

Before You Leave, Check This Out