Lung cancer: nonsmoking women in 40s need to know these 10 truths

 You're a woman in the know. 

A woman in your 40s who has learned to take good care of you.

Rather than puffing on a cigarette, you're taking deep breaths and doing yoga or meditation.  You're eating more veggies and less fast food.  You never miss a mammogram.  You go to the gym.  Lift weights and take Vitamin D to support bone health.  Could you be missing anything?

Quite surprisingly, yes.  Lung cancer is almost never talked about among women in their 40s or 50s.  During Lung Cancer Awareness Month, here are 10 reasons to start talking about it:

1.  Breast cancer may get more publicity and funding, but lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of women, and has been since 1987.  It kills roughly 1.5 times more women than breast cancer.

2.  That nagging winter cough that won't go away could be a sign of lung cancer.  That is what happened to this healthy 28-year-old woman who had the scare of her life but lived to tell about it.

3.  Twenty percent of women who get lung cancer have never smoked. It may sound untrue but it is very much a reality.  I know firsthand.   This is exactly what happened to my late sister, a nonsmoking woman in her 40s. and a mom of two young kids.

4.  Young women are more likely to get lung cancer than young men.  By young, the data means women and men who developed lung cancer between the ages of 30 and 54, according to Dr. Kirtly Jones from the University of Utah Health.  Learn more lung cancer stats in women here.

5.  It is a mystery why more nonsmoking women, ages 40 to 79, are developing lung cancer, as opposed to men in the same age category.  Dr. Julie Brahmer, a leading lung cancer researcher from Johns Hopkins, says the answers are unclear. 

"Patients who have never smoked are shocked and ask, `Why me?`"  It's not clear whether the causes are environmental, hormonal or genetic, she adds, "but we're looking at this carefully and pressing the government to do the same."

Read more about nonsmoking women and lung cancer here.

6.  Indoor air pollution is a risk factor for lung cancer in women, including cooking with Woks and also high radon levels.  Read about a study of nonsmoking Chinese women who cook indoors often (with smoky kitchen air)  and got lung cancer.

7.  About two-thirds of never-smokers diagnosed with lung cancer are women.  It seems women  in this category are at greater risk for lung cancer simply by being a woman.

8.  In the U.S. an average of 181 women die each day of lung cancer.  That is one woman each seven minutes, or 66,000 women per year.  See the stats here..

9.  Women, you have about a 1 in 17 chance of developing lung cancer in your lifetime, according to the American Cancer Society.  

10.  Although lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women, it is the least funded of the major cancers affecting women.  For every woman who dies of lung cancer, only $2,488 is spent on lung cancer funding.  For breast cancer that number is $16, 978. Read more vital stats on women and lung cancer here.

The statistics for women and lung cancer may be frightening, but you don't have to live in fear.  Dr. Brahmer and other oncologists recommend knowing the warning signs of lung cancer, which include:

  • shortness of breath
  • a cough (most likely a dry one) that won't go away
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Shoulder or ribcage pain

"People need to keep lung cancer on their radar," says Brahmer.  "It's not just ovarian or breast cancer that can strike women." 

If you have any of the symptoms listed above, please see a doctor and asked to be tested for lung cancer.  Dr. Kirtly Jones urges women to not automatically write off a lingering cough as allergies.  When detected early, the 5-year survival rate for lung cancer is 61%.  See survival rates for lung cancer here.

If you want to get involved in the fight against lung cancer, consider posting about lung cancer on social media.  To help you, Lungevity--an organization that funds lifesaving lung cancer research and empowers lung cancer patients through education and advocacy-- has created a handy visual graphic that you can easily share.  Or feel free to share this article.  Let's speak up for women's lung health.


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