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Lung Cancer Deadlier Than Breast Cancer For Women

While women may fear breast cancer more than other cancers, the American Cancer Society reports that lung cancer will be responsible for 25% of women's cancer deaths this year, while breast cancer will account for 15% of women's cancer deaths.  In fact, lung cancer has been the leading cancer killer of U.S. women since 1987. While it is true that breast cancer affects more women, lung cancer consistently claims more lives.

Five-year survival rates for lung cancer are now 15%, which is only slightly better than the 12% survival rates of 30 years ago. Five year survival rates for breast cancer have now reached 88%.

While rates of lung cancer have been declining among men for many years, women's rates have actually increased until recently, when they began to level off. Cigarette smoking is the big culprit. Women who smoke are more likely to develop lung cancer at a younger age than men and as a result of being exposed to lower levels of smoke.

Women are also more likely than men to develop small-cell lung cancer, which spreads quickly, and adenocarcinoma, which accounts for about 40% of lung cancer cases in women. Adenocarcinoma is more difficult to treat because it involves cells lining the internal organs, in contrast with squamous cell lung cancers that begin on the surface of the lungs.

Why are women at a disadvantage with respect to lung cancer? The prevailing hypothesis is that estrogen may play a role in stimulating the growth of existing lung cancer cells. The good news is that women diagnosed with the same type of lung cancer as men often have a better prognosis, according to data gathered by the Society for Women's Health Research.

Created: 3/3/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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