Lung Cancer Kills More Women Than Breast Cancer

Patient Expert

As women age and go through menopause, I find that we often start worrying about illnesses that can start emerging during this time of life. For instance, many of my middle-aged friends are well-versed in breast cancer. However, I rarely hear my friends talk about lung cancer. And that needs to change  That’s because there are a lot of misconceptions about the prevalence of lung cancer among women.

Here are the facts about lung cancer. The American Lung Association (ALA) estimates that 224,000 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2014. The five-year survival rate is 16 percent, which is among the lowest of all types of cancers. About two out of three people diagnosed with lung cancer are 65 years of age or older. Fewer than two percent of all cases are found in people who are younger than 45. The average age at the time of diagnosis is about 70. Overall, a woman faces a one in 16 risk of developing lung cancer during her lifetime; in comparison, a man has a one in 13 chance. These odds include both smokers and non-smokers. Not surprisingly, smokers have a much higher risk. Additionally, black women have a 10 percent lower risk of developing lung cancer than white women.  And while going through the menopausal transition doesn’t cause cancer, points out that the risk of developing cancer increases as women age.

Now let’s look at women’s perception of lung cancer. The ALA surveyed more than 1,000 adult women in the United States about their perceptions about lung cancer. The survey found that 78 percent of the respondents were not aware that lung cancer had killed more women than breast cancer since 1987. In fact, lung cancer is responsible for the most deaths by cancer of women in the United States. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

Additionally, 81 percent of the women surveyed did not know that fewer than 50 percent of all women diagnosed with lung cancer actually will be alive by the year following diagnosis. Approximately 80 percent of the respondents were not aware that less than one-fifth of women with this type of cancer were diagnosed early; such an early diagnosis would give doctors more treatment options and increase the chance of survival.

Fifty-percent of the respondents also did not know that lung cancer diagnoses have more than doubled among women over the last 35 years. In comparison, the rate of new lung cancer cases has dropped by 35 percent in men.
Forty percent of Baby Boomer respondents and 46 percent of Mature respondents said they were not concerned about getting lung cancer because they don’t smoke. In fact, 10 percent of lung cancer cases involve people who have never smoked. More than two-thirds of people who are diagnosed with lung cancer are former smokers or have never smoked. Risk factors for lung cancer include genetics, exposure to secondhand smoke, radon gas, asbestos and air pollution.

The ALA points out that the five-year survival rate for lung cancer is 53.5 percent in cases that are detected when the disease is still localized in the lungs. However, only 15 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at this early stage. And it hopefully will, thanks to a new campaign called LUNG FORCE by the American Lung Association.

Surprisingly, there is no widely accepted screening tool to detect lung cancer at an early stage.  People who have a high risk are encouraged to talk to their doctor about having an annual low-dose CT screening.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

American Cancer Society. (2014). What are the key statistics about lung cancer?

American Lung Association. (2014). American Lung Association teams up with Valerie Harper and Kellie PIckler to launch LUNG FORCE, national public health initiative to fight lung cancer in women.

American Lung Association. (2014). LUNG FORCE. (2014). Menopause and cancer risk.