Lung cancer is by far the deadliest cancer. More Americans die each year of lung cancer, than breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic cancer combined. Yet even though lung cancer is the deadliest cancer, it gets the least funding of all other cancers.
Although more men (86,000 projected in 2010) die from lung cancer. Women are catching up (71,000) according to the American Cancer Society. By comparison 40,000 women die each year from breast cancer. The question is why lung cancer rates are rising in women and what can be done about it. Lung cancer rates in men have been declining.
Unlike breast cancer there is a stigma involved in lung cancer especially for women. Since most cancer victims smoked at one time there is not much sympathy since “it was their own fault.” Most funds go for treating the disease.
However there has been some research lately on whether women are more susceptible to lung cancer than men. The consensus is that lung cancer affects women differently.
Women seem to get adenocarcinoma cells in their lungs while men get squamous cells in theirs. Also women tend to respond differently to cancer drug therapy and live longer than men with the disease. Adenocarcinoma used to be a rare type of cancer but it has become more common.
The hormone estrogen seems to be the factor in women’s lung cancer. Estrogen may also affect the body’s response to smoke toxins and cause more damage to T cells.. This may answer the question why one out of five women who has never smoked gets lung cancer (like Superman Christopher Reeve’s wife Dana) as compared with one out of twelve men.
Many women baby boomers were routinely given estrogen replacement therapy at the onset of menopause and many took in additional estrogen in birth control pills for several years. They may be paying the price now with lung cancer especially if they are or were smokers.
Women have a difficult time quitting smoking since they believe quitting will make them gain weight. They get Pap Smears and mammograms. They exercise and watch their diet; but they underestimate their risk of lung cancer.
Women need to be aware of the symptoms of lung cancer. If there is wheezing, coughing, pain in the chest, seek medical treatment, especially if there is a history of smoking.
Most importantly quit smoking…If you don’t smoke, don’t start.
Lung cancer in women now has its own awareness symbol like the red dress for heart disease and the pink ribbon for breast cancer. It is a pretty blue dragonfly which might catch on.
Wall Street Journal
St. Pete Times