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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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"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.

"That's despite the fact that lung cancer kills more people than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined," Mutyala said.

Burns said women can help by getting involved in efforts to raise awareness and funds. The ALA just launched a new website, dubbed Lung Force (lungforce.org), where people can find information on local charity events, share stories about their experiences with lung cancer, and get information on the disease.

"We want people to learn about the risks," Burns said. "This is something that's relevant to you. You should care."

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