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Lung Cancer Not on Many Women's Radar: Survey

Although lung cancer is biggest cancer killer, women believe breast cancer is a bigger concern
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Right now, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends annual CT scans for adults aged 55 to 80 who currently smoke or who quit within the past 15 years -- and smoked for at least 30 "pack-years." That means one pack per day for 30 years, or two packs a day for 15 years, for example.

Smokers are not, however, the only people who get lung cancer. About 10 percent of people diagnosed with the disease never smoked, the ALA states.

But half of the women in the new survey said they were "not concerned" about lung cancer because they'd never smoked. That included 68 percent of lifelong nonsmokers.

"Many people think of lung cancer as solely a smoker's disease," Burns said.

Yet, she added, if lung cancer in nonsmokers were considered its own disease, it would rank among the top-10 cancer killers in the United States.

Burns and Mutyala said people should be aware of the risk factors for lung cancer in nonsmokers.

The top cause is exposure to radon gas, which can become concentrated in homes that are built on soil with natural uranium deposits. Other risk factors include chronic exposure to secondhand smoke or air pollution, and on-the-job exposure to pollutants such as diesel exhaust and asbestos. Researchers have also found gene mutations that play a role in some lung cancers.

The prognosis for people with lung cancer remains grim, according to the lung association. Less than half of women with the disease are still alive one year after they're diagnosed -- a statistic few women in the survey said they'd heard before.

Unfortunately, the cancer is usually diagnosed at a late stage. "Only about 20 percent of lung cancers are operable when people are diagnosed," Mutyala said.

To help improve that outlook, the ALA wants the U.S. National Institutes of Health to boost its funding for lung cancer research -- from the current level of $213 million per year, to $400 million by 2025. By comparison, current funding for breast cancer research tops $650 million a year, according to estimates from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

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