Are Women At Higher Risk for Lung Cancer?

Certainly, smoking is dangerous and deadly for anyone. Lung cancer is of particular concern for women, however, as it is the leading cause of death in the United States for women. There are more deaths from lung cancer for women each year than there are with breast, ovarian and uterine cancer combined! For this reason, it is important to focus on smoking as it relates to women, and their chances of lung cancer.

Gender Differences in Lung Cancer

Men and women have very different ways that their bodies deal with lung cancer. Women are more vulnerable to the effects of tobacco, as their bodies break down the tobacco differently than do men who smoke. Men appear to repair damaged DNA better than women, creating a cancer, in women, that spreads more easily. Similarly, hormones such as estrogen may affect and increase cancer growth.

Risk for Those Who Don’t Smoke

While lung cancer is certainly more likely in women who do smoke, researchers have been finding an increase in lung cancer cases for women who don’t smoke. While researchers aren’t entirely sure of why these numbers are rising for non-smokers, they believe that there are three main factors. These include genetic pre-disposition, environmental factors and hormones such as estrogen. The environmental factors include exposure to second-hand smoke and radon. Between 1990 and 2003, there has actually been a 60% increase in lung cancer cases for women – compared to no increase in the percentages for men!

Risk for Those Who Do Smoke

Researchers have found that almost 25% of all women in the United States smoke. Many of these, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, are teenage girls who have been told that smoking can help them to control their weight – and that smoking looks “cool.” There isn’t any evidence that shows that women who smoke are more likely to develop lung cancer than are male smokers; research does seem to show, however, that women have a more difficult time quitting.

Gender Differences in Treatment & Survival

The good news for women is that they tend to survive with their cancer longer, and to respond better to certain treatments. Although researchers don’t know why, women live longer with lung cancer. Their five year survival rate is higher than that for men. Studies have also found that women respond better to certain therapies for their lung cancer than do men. There are a number of drugs, including cisplatin (Platinol) based treatments, that women respond better to than do men.

These findings are all quite interesting, and more research is certainly needed on women and lung cancer. Certainly, the best way to minimize the risk of developing lung cancer is not to smoke, or to stop smoking if you do smoke at the moment. Speak with your doctor if you are at high risk for developing lung cancer or if you need suggestions for how to quit smoking.

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