SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WAND) - Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of both men and women in the United States, and those numbers continue to rise.
In the past 40 years, lung cancer cases have increased by 87 percent for women.
It's a common misconception that the majority of people who have lung cancer are smokers, but two thirds of people diagnosed have never smoked, and one of those people is Nici Ropac.
"I've never smoked a day in my life, my family doesn't smoke," Ropac said. "I never lived around it, and I still had it."
Ropac had her upper right and middle lobes removed from one of her lungs.
"When I was in high school, every spring, I would get really sick," Ropac said. "We just thought it was really bad allergies. Then when I went to college it got really bad, and I saw my doctor and they told me it was bronchitis."
Less than 2 percent of lung cancers occur in people under 40 years old, and Ropac was just 23 when she was diagnosed.
"I wanted to be a young mom, so in my head I thought I was going to die at 23 or 24 and never get to live life," Ropac said. "I was like one in a handful of cases in the United States."
Lung cancer is often detected too late after it's already spread. So, doctors recommend a person gets screened if they meet criteria that places them in a high risk group.
"I know the American Lung Association has done research, and they found only 3 percent of people think lung health is important," Ropac said."That's a really low number and for how high the percentage is, it's scary to think only 3 percent of people take it seriously."