Lung Cancer in Women
Symptoms and risk factors for lung cancer are similar between men and women, but rates differ.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), lung cancer is the second most common type in men and women, not counting skin cancer. It is the leading cause of cancer-related death for both sexes.
The American Lung Association reported that lung cancer rates have decreased by 35% in men over the past 41 years, but have increased by 87% in women.
Men and women experience very similar symptoms of lung cancer, which may include:
- shortness of breath
- a persistent, worsening cough
- difficulty swallowing
- weight loss
- ongoing chest pain
- spitting blood
- recurrent lung infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis
Anyone experiencing these symptoms should see a doctor.
Risk factors for lung cancer are similar between men and women. These:
- To smoke
- passive smoking
- exposure to asbestos, smoke, or radon
- family history of lung cancer
- a personal history of lung disease, including lung cancer
- a poor diet
Smoking and passive smoking remain the most important risk factors for lung cancer.
Genetic and Hormonal Differences
A 2014 study published in Seminars for Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery suggests that certain genes and hormones contribute to increased lung cancer mortality in women.
Researchers have identified several genes that may explain the different rates of lung cancer between men and women. While a person may inherit some of these genes, exposure to tobacco can activate others.
KRAS is a gene and any mutation in it can cause cancerous tumors to grow faster. A mutation can also increase the likelihood of tumors spreading.
One study suggests that KRAS mutations may make lung cancer growth more aggressive after exposure to estrogen, female sex hormone, and other hormones.
A study links gastric secreting peptide receptor (GRPR) activity with cancer cell growth.
This receptor is more active in women and can increase the effects of exposure to estrogen.
Epidermal growth factor (EGFR) is a protein often found in people with lung cancer. Mutations in the EGFR-producing gene are significantly more common in women than men.
HER2 is part of the EGFR gene group found in many cases of adenocarcinoma. HER2 is linked to worse survival rates among women with lung cancer.
Researchers found estrogen receptors in lung cancer cells from men and women.
The same 2014 study on genes and hormones in lung cancer development suggested that estrogen promotes the growth of tumor cells. It has also demonstrated the cancer-suppressing effects of estrogen-blocking treatments.
Long-term exposure to estrogen can affect the risk of lung cancer. Factors that can affect estrogen levels include:
- number of pregnancies, if any
- age of first menstrual bleeding
- age at onset of menopause
The right treatments for lung cancer depend on the stage of the cancer at diagnosis.
A surgeon can usually remove small tumors that have not spread. Some doctors may recommend chemotherapy or radiation therapy to support the surgery and ensure that no cancerous cells remain.
If the lung cancer has spread significantly, surgery is usually not an option. At this stage, the doctor may recommend radiation therapy to help control complications and reduce pain and discomfort.
Traditionally, there has been no difference in how doctors treat lung cancer in men and women.
However, research investigating the hormonal and genetic aspects of lung cancer has led to new treatments that may be more effective in women than in men.
Also, drugs that target certain proteins or receptors appear to be more effective in treating lung cancer in non-smoking women.
Although symptoms are similar, cancer and cancer-related death rates differ in men and women. More research is needed to reduce the risk of disease.
Lung cancer has a poor prognosis.
The ACS uses 5-year survival rates to estimate a person’s life expectancy after diagnosis. This figure refers to the probability that a person with a certain type and stage of cancer will live at least 5 years after diagnosis.
For people with non-small cell lung cancer, the overall 5-year survival rate is 23%. The overall survival rate for people with small cell lung cancer is 6%.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and avoiding smoking can help anyone reduce their risk of developing lung cancer.
Source: MedicalNewsToday. What are the signs of lung cancer in women?. 2021
- Key statistics for lung cancer. (2019).
- Lung cancer fact sheet. (2018).
- Non-small cell lung cancer survival rates. (2019).
- North, CM, & Christiani, DC (2014). Women and lung cancer: What’s new?
- Small cell lung cancer survival rates. (2019).