Elder woman

Lung cancer remains a top killer in our country today. According to the CDC, it is the third most common cancer in the United States.

In 2020, nearly 117,000 women were diagnosed with lung cancer and more than 62,000 women died from the disease in the U.S, according to the American Cancer Society. Many of those women were long-time nicotine users.

But while lung cancer diagnoses are declining for men, the opposite is true for women. More than two-thirds of nonsmokers with lung cancer are women.

What is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer occurs when cells in the lungs change by growing uncontrollably and cluster together to form a tumor. Symptoms usually do not appear until the cancer has spread to other parts of the body and, unfortunately, it is difficult to detect early.

Currently, there is no recommendation to screen nonsmokers or people who have no history of smoking. For at-risk populations, however, screenings are highly encouraged.

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Screenings for Lung Cancer

Patient history and an evaluation of risk factors are used to decide if screening criteria are met. For example, to be eligible for the Lung Cancer Screening Program at UPMC, patients must:

  • Be between 50 and 77 years of age*
  • Have at least a 20 “pack-year” history of smoking (one pack per day for a year is equivalent to one “pack year”)
  • Be a current smoker or have quit within the past 15 years
  • Not be in treatment for cancer

Patients who meet these requirements may receive a yearly low-dose CT scan with no dye and an annual office visit for the rest of their lifetimes.

What to Watch For

Doctors encourage all women to be their own advocate. For any woman who has smoked in the past, whether you have symptoms or not, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about it. They can gather information to evaluate your personal risk factors and recommend screening, if appropriate.

Knowledge about lung cancer is the best defense in finding early-stage disease.

Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer

Talk to your doctor if you have any of the following signs:

  • A persistent cough that does not go away or gets worse
  • Coughing up blood or rust-colored phlegm
  • Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue

About UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 70 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and Maryland, with more than 200 oncologists. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment.