Many people are surprised to learn that lung, not breast cancer, is the number one cancer killer of women in the United States.
Although smoking contributes to the majority of lung cancer cases, development in never-smokers is now considered the sixth most common cause of cancer death in the United States, and is more prevalent in women than men.
To unravel this mystery, scientists are actively studying why women who never smoke are more susceptible to lung cancer. It may be that women are more predisposed to second hand smoke, scientists theorize, while radiation exposure from certain heart procedures may also lead to an increased risk as well. Current research is focusing on gender differences in the detoxification of nicotine, cell metabolism and cancer growth, as well as the role of hormones in tumor growth and resistance to treatment.
Women have also been shown to develop a type of lung cancer called adenocarcinoma, and experience genetic mutation in their tumors called EGFR. By identifying a particular mutation early, doctors are able to use oral drug treatments that are more effective and better tolerated than chemotherapy.
The good news is that early diagnosed lung cancer increases the chances of survival for both men and women alike. Regular screenings with low-dose CT scans can detect lung cancer in its earliest stages, when treatment is most likely to be successful. Men and women are eligible for low-dose CT screening if they are between ages 55-75 and smoked a minimum of 30 pack-years (the number of packs smoked per day, per year); are either current smokers or have quit within the last 15 years; and presently do not have any symptoms of lung cancer.
Of course, the best way to prevent lung cancer altogether is to avoid smoking, which is responsible for 80-90 percent of all lung cancer deaths.
Fortunately, recent advancements in lung cancer treatment are improving the survival and outlook of all patients with advanced-stage lung cancer. These treatments include genetically targeted drugs and immune checkpoint inhibitors that have fewer side effects than standard chemotherapy, and are more effective in the appropriate patient.
If you are diagnosed with lung cancer, it is important to be treated at a comprehensive cancer center that provides personalized care by physicians who solely focus on lung cancer and provide care from diagnosis to treatment and into survivorship. The cancer center should offer a full range of supportive care, including a nurse navigator who coordinates appointments, as well as pain management, palliative care, pulmonary and physical rehabilitation and survivorship clinics.
NewYork-Presbyterian’s (NYP) Cancer Centers provide high-quality, comprehensive cancer care at convenient locations throughout the New York metropolitan area, Westchester and the Lower Hudson Valley in state-of-the-art, comfortable environments. Board certified medical oncologists collaborate with a multidisciplinary team to provide each patient with an individualized plan of care. To find a location in your area, visit nyp.org/cancer.
NewYork-Presbyterian is one of the largest and most comprehensive hospitals in the nation, ranked New York’s No. 1 hospital for the 16th consecutive year, and No. 6 in the United States, according to U.S. News and World Report. Affiliated with two academic medical colleges – Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and Weill Cornell Medicine -- NewYork-Presbyterian brings together internationally recognized researchers and clinicians to develop and implement the latest approaches for prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center is one of only three NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers in New York State. NewYork-Presbyterian provides comprehensive cancer care at all of our locations across the New York Metro area including Westchester County and the Hudson Valley. Learn more at nyp.org/cancer.