Lung Cancer Should be on Your Radar if You're a Woman. (Even if you've never smoked a cigarette in your life)

There's a cancer women almost never talk about. Women are not just getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer, says Johns Hopkins cancer researcher and oncologist Julie Brahmer. According to Dr Brahmer, a growing number of women, ages 40 and up are developing lung cancer, even though they have never smoked or been exposed to secondhand smoke. Even scarier, lung cancer kills more women each year than breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers combined. That's what happened to my sister, the one in the yellow shirt above.  And when lung cancer kills a 48 year old mom of two who wanted nothing more than to see her two kids grow up--well that's not okay.

It is not clear whether this rise in lung cancer among nonsmoking women is caused by environmental, genetic, or hormonal factor, explains Dr. Brahmer. That's why she and other researchers are currently investigating rising lung cancer incidence in women nonsmokers, and also pressing the government to allocate more money to this vital research.

Dr. Brahmer says it is imperative that women know the signs of lung cancer, such as a cough that won't go away, exhaustion, and breathlessness. Also important is talking to your doctor and insisting that you get testing, such as a CT of the chest.  

It may take a long time to diagnose women nonsmokers because chest CT scans aren't routinely ordered. That's what happened with my sister.  A working mom of two in her 40s, she was used to being tired.  But she had a nagging cough that would not go away all winter. And she had pain in her shoulder and rib cage that was making it almost impossible to sleep.  Over a course of three months, she visited numerous doctors on a hunt to get a diagnosis, including a pulmonary specialist, a chiropractor, an acupuncture doctor, and a sports medicine practitioner.  My sister was wrongly diagnosed with asthma and muscle strain, before she finally received a CT of the chest, which led to a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer.  

One of the first things I remember my sister saying to me is "We're going to fight this. "  She calmly explained that people with lung cancer were living longer than ever because of targeted cancer drugs that work with the genetic profile of  the patient's tumor. She made it clear to me she wasn't going to just lay down and die.  Wanting the best possible outcome my sister interviewed multiple cancer centers before choosing renowned Johns Hopkins  in Washington D.C. She had great faith in her oncologist Dr. Benjamin Levy, one of the best lung cancer doctors in the nation. Because of modern medicine and advances in cancer care, my sister lived for two years after her diagnosis. She had two years to make memories for her two young children. And, I for one, am grateful that I got to mend my relationship with my sister, as we had drifted apart since both becoming moms and living in different parts of the country. 


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