Women and Lung Cancer

What did Dana Reeve and Beverly Sills have in common? Both were non-smokers and both died of lung cancer1. They are among the more than 71,000 women who died of lung cancer in the United States each year2.

Most women would probably say that they are more at risk of breast cancer than any other form of cancer. But what they don't know is that lung cancer kills more women each year than any other form of cancer3. And it doesn't just affect women who smoke.

In the past 30 years, lung cancer incidence rates among women had a six-fold increase while the incidence rates for men declined4. Smoking has certainly played a role in this increase but non-smokers can get lung cancer as well. If you did smoke during your life, you are at an increased risk of lung cancer. People who have been exposed to asbestos, radioactive dust, radon and arsenic also are at an increased risk. If you have a family history of cancer or have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may have a great risk of developing lung cancer.

Lung cancer symptoms

With lung cancer, the cells in the lungs grow abnormally. The two most common types of lung cancer are small cell and non-small cell. Most of the time, lung cancer doesn't cause symptoms in the early stages of the disease. However, if you have any of the following symptoms, you should see your doctor:

  • Persistent cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain
  • Hoarseness
  • Sudden offset of wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite
  • Recurring respiratory infections, such as pneumonia
  • Fatigue


Your doctor will start with a thorough medical history and physical. You will probably need a chest X-ray of your lungs to look for a lung nodule or mass. Your doctor may order a CT of the chest or an MRI. Other diagnostic tests may include:

  • Thoracentesis, which takes a sample of fluid around the lungs
  • Brochoscopy, which uses a small flexible camera to look in the airways and allows the doctor to take samples of lung tissue
  • Positron emission tomography (PET), a specialized scan that looks for changes in the cells of the lungs


Treatment for lung cancer is based on the type of cancer you have, its stage, how aggressively that type of cancer behaves, and whether the cancer has spread to other parts of your body.

Surgery is the most common initial treatment for lung cancer. Your surgeon will remove either part or the entire lung that is affected. Surgery is most commonly used when the lung cancer hasn't spread to other parts of the body.

Other treatments may include chemotherapy and radiation therapy, either alone or in combination. Photodynamic therapy, which is a laser therapy that works with a chemical to kill cancer cells, may be used to reduce the symptoms of lung cancer or to help treat very small tumors. If you have been diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer, cryosurgery may be used to freeze and destroy the cancerous tissue.


One of the best ways to prevent lung cancer is not to smoke. If you currently smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to help you quit smoking. Second-hand smoke also increases your risk of developing lung cancer. You should take steps to reduce your exposure to smoke from those around you.

Air pollution also may increase your risk of developing cancer. If you live in an area that has high levels of air pollution, reduce the time you spend outdoors during periods that have higher levels.

Studies show that eating a healthy diet that includes lots of fruit and vegetables, especially those high in beta carotene, such as carrots, may reduce your risk of lung cancer. You also should consume alcohol only in moderate amounts.

Staying physically active may reduce your risk of lung cancer. Even if you have smoked, getting enough exercise may help reduce your risk.

For more information about lung cancer, talk with your doctor or for a free physician referral to a specialist near you call 936-568-3289 / toll free 1-866-898-8446 or go to:   http://www.nacmedicalcenter.com/en-us/pages/physicianpage.aspx.

Telephone number for Loma Laird Cancer Center:  936-568-3541.