Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death and is the second most common form of cancer in the United States. While it has a reputation for being a male disease and one targeting smokers and former smokers, it may surprise women to know that there is a steady rise in lung cancer among their gender, while it has decreased for men.
“For nonsmokers between the ages of 40 and 70, more women than men are at risk for developing this disease even if they do not use tobacco. In fact, more women die each year from lung cancer than breast cancer and colorectal cancers combined,” says Jacob Nikon, MD, FCCP, pulmonologist, UPMC Memorial.
Lung cancer occurs when cells in the lung change by growing uncontrollably and form a tumor. There are different types of lung cancer including non-small cell, small cell, and adenocarcinoma, which often occurs in non-smokers and is more common in women.
Additionally, statistics show approximately 20% of women diagnosed with lung cancer today are lifelong non-smokers, yet only one in 12 men with lung cancer were lifetime non-smokers.
Although medical experts don’t know the reason for the gender discrepancy, Dr. Nikon emphasizes that the gap is narrowing when it comes to lung cancer and there have been some indicators pointing to hormones, genetic mutations, and secondhand smoke exposure.
“The good news for women is their survival rate is higher and they often respond better to lung cancer treatment than men. At UPMC, we offer a variety of therapy options ranging from surgery and radiation to chemotherapy and newer, molecular-based immunotherapies,” says Dr. Nikon, adding some targeted therapies for non-smokers suspected of genetic abnormalities have made a big difference.
Treatments for lung cancer depend upon the person’s stage (ranging from 0-4), overall health, and personal preferences. UPMC’s highly trained experts including pulmonologists, thoracic surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists work collaboratively with patients to formulate an individualized plan of care from diagnosis and beyond.
The earlier lung cancer is detected and treated, the better chance of successful outcomes. Both the quality and combination of treatment received is equally as critical. Doctors encourage patients to be vigilant and discuss the screening processes with their primary care physician even if they smoked or were exposed decades earlier.
According to Dr. Nikon, roughly 14.5 million Americans are eligible for lung cancer screening and UPMC in central Pa. is considered a Lung Cancer Screening Center of Excellence, offering advanced technology for early detection through its pulmonary nodule clinic. Nodules often are non-cancerous spots but can be an early sign of lung cancer.
“We at UPMC take pride in having assembled a dedicated and committed team, whose time-sensitive approach and advanced technology both in diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer benefits our patients. Providing this elevated level of care is what we would offer to our own family members,” says Dr. Nikon.
For more information about lung cancer and screenings, visit UPMC.com/CentralPaLCS.