The greatest risk factor for developing lung cancer remains smoking but experts have noticed a newer development: According to More young women who are nonsmokers are developing lung cancer.
We don’t really know why that’s happening, but we are seeing the trend. According to Dr. Michael Ebright, director of thoracic surgery at Stamford Hospital and clinical associate professor of thoracic surgery at Columbia University Medical Center, “Smoking still is the dominant risk factor in women. It increases the chance of developing lung cancer by 25 times. But the incidence of lung cancer in women who are nonsmokers is twice as high as men who are nonsmokers.”
While emerging cases of women nonsmokers with lung cancer remain worrisome, doctors now have therapies that have transformed lung cancer outcomes, especially in the nonsmoker population.
“We have more treatments available for the types of cancers that are found in the nonsmokers, the adenocarcinomas,” he says. “We’re actually sequencing the genome, sequencing the DNA of these tumors to determine whether particular genetic mutations exist and we can leverage much newer medications that are extremely effective.”
New treatments that target genetic mutations make a dramatic impact on the lives of lung cancer patients.
“Lung cancer patients are now living longer than they used to live,” Ebright says. “What we hope to do is transform advanced lung cancer to a chronic disease that can be managed rather than deadly.”
By the time patients start experiencing symptoms of lung cancer, it has normally become advanced, Ebright notes. Still, patients should talk to their doctor if they:
- Have a persistent cough that’s unlike a smoker’s cough.
- Cough up blood.
- Feel chest pain.
- Experience bone pain.
- Have shortness of breath.
- Grapple with headaches.
- Feel dizzy or lightheaded.
“Lung cancer can spread to the bones and can spread to the brain so you can get pain there, too,” Ebright adds.
As experts continue investigating the emerging trend of nonsmoking women developing young cancer, Ebright offers reassurance.
“Lung cancer is still rare in young, never smokers, but it is becoming more common than it used to be,” he says. “I don’t think women who are young and haven’t smoked should walk around worrying that they’re going to get lung cancer.”