Cancer Risk Double for Women Smokers
But Women Less Likely to Die From Lung Cancer After Treatment Than Male Smokers
More Curable or Less Malignant? continued...
Schiller is president of the National Lung Cancer Partnership, which she founded to raise awareness about lung cancer in women and the importance of treatment.
Many people are surprised to learn lung cancer is not only treatable, but curable, when detected early, Schiller says. Most lung cancer patients have later-stage disease when diagnosed.
Investigators like Henschke and her colleagues are now studying the value of routine screening with computed tomographic (CT) X-ray imaging.
"One of the things that we see way too much of is patients coming to us much later than they should," Schiller tells WebMD.
Anyone with persistent pulmonary symptoms that do not go away with treatment -- especially smokers and former smokers -- should insist on having a chest X-ray even if they are told they don't need one, she says.
Hormones and Lung Cancer
It is also increasingly clear that lung cancer risk differs among male and female nonsmokers.
The recent lung cancer death of actress Dana Reeve, who did not smoke, helped make the public aware that nonsmokers do get lung cancer, Schiller says.
She adds that women with no history of smoking have a greater risk of getting the disease than nonsmoking men, and they tend to be diagnosed at younger ages.
One theory is that just as in breast cancerbreast cancer, the female sex hormone estrogen plays a role in lung cancer.
"It turns out lung cancers, just like breast cancers, have estrogen receptors," Schiller says. "There is a lot of research looking into whether estrogen can somehow act as a growth-promoting factor in lung cancer, as it does in breast cancer."
Schiller notes that some recent studies have found that women with lung cancer who take estrogen hormone therapy have a worse cancer survival rate than women who do not take estrogen.
Whatever the cause of the gender differences, Henschke and Schiller agree that increasing awareness about lung cancer risk among women is critical.
More than 73,000 women in the U.S. are expected to die of the disease this year, according to the American Cancer Society.
"Lung cancer kills more women each year than breast, ovarian, and uterine canceruterine cancer combined," Schiller says. "If we expect to change this we have to bring this disease into the open and make sure women know they are at risk."