Did you know that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among American women? The numbers are alarming: In 2010, the last year for which statistics are available, 70,578 women died of lung cancer in the United States.
Once considered a “man’s disease,” the incidence of new lung cancer cases in women has increased during the past 35 years. And, equally as important, studies have shown that lung cancer in women differs from lung cancer in men.
What makes lung cancer in women different than men?
Although smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer in women, 20 percent of newly diagnosed women have never smoked. Women also tend to develop lung cancer at a younger age than men, accounting for nearly half of the newly diagnosed lung cancer cases in people under age 50.
Additionally, while squamous cell lung cancer is most common in men, adenocarcinoma is the most common type of lung cancer in women. This means that symptoms in women can be different than men. Adenocarcinoma develops in the outer regions of the lungs and often does not cause the “classic” signs of lung cancer, like a cough or coughing up blood. Instead, women with early-stage lung cancer may experience fatigue, shortness of breath and chest or back pain. A lung tumor may also spread or grow to be quite large before women experience any symptoms.
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Staying up-to-date on the latest lung cancer research allows us to provide the most effective, leading-edge treatments for all our patients, particularly women where many of these findings are new.
What is being done to learn more?
Research is being conducted to determine the role that estrogen, a female sex hormone, plays in the incidence and mortality rates of lung cancer. Scientists have identified estrogen receptors, or areas that can bind with estrogen, on the outside of lung cancer cells. Additional research into the role of estrogen in female lung cancer patients may result in additional, more effective lung cancer treatment options for women.
“Staying up-to-date on the latest lung cancer research allows us to provide the most effective, leading-edge treatments for all our patients, particularly women where many of these findings are new. ” said Dr. Troy Moritz, thoracic surgeon at UPMC Pinnacle.
Do women respond to treatment as well as men?
Studies have also shown that women respond better to certain chemotherapy drugs that are used to treat lung cancer and even fare better after surgery. And the five-year survival rate for women are better than those for men.
“By customizing each patient’s treatment plan, our thoracic oncology team is able to increase survival rates and improve quality of life for our patients,” said Dr. Moritz.
To learn more, call the PinnacleHealth Cancer Center at UPMC Pinnacle visit UPMCPinnacle.com/Cancer.
About UPMC Harrisburg
UPMC Harrisburg is a nationally recognized leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered health care services in south central PA. and surrounding rural communities. UPMC Harrisburg includes seven acute care hospitals and over 160 outpatient clinics and ancillary facilities serving Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Juniata, Franklin, Adams, and parts of Snyder counties. These locations care for more than 1.2 million area residents yearly, providing life-saving emergency care, essential primary care, and leading-edge diagnostic services. Its cardiovascular program is nationally recognized for its innovation and quality. It also leads the region with its cancer, neurology, transplant, obstetrics-gynecology, maternity care, and orthopaedic programs.