Healthcare Professionals Look at Women and Lung Cancer

By Susan Mitchell, CRNP, in collaboration with Dr. Sandeep Bansal at Penn Highlands Healthcare’s Lung Center

November is Lung Cancer Awareness month. How many of you knew this? Why is this important you ask? Lung cancer is the second most common cancer but is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States and in our state. It is estimated that in 2014, 72,330 women will die from lung cancer (Cancer.Net).

Every year more people die from lung cancer than breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic cancers combined. In 1987, lung cancer surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause of death in women. Twice as many women die from lung cancer than from breast cancer even though more women are diagnosed with breast cancer than lung cancer.

Lung cancer has been described as “a hidden women’s cancer” and was rarely discussed much unlike breast or ovarian cancer. In the past, lung cancer was thought to be a “man’s disease.”

Most people thought that lung cancer had the stigma of being something one caused for oneself by smoking. While smoking is the main risk factor for developing lung cancer, nearly 80 percent of people diagnosed today either never smoked or were former smokers who quit several years ago.

Other causes for lung cancer include exposure to secondhand smoke, radon in our homes, other environmental and occupational exposures or even a genetic predisposition to develop lung cancer.

In 2010, the Mary Horrigan Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital developed the first comprehensive overview of women and lung cancer to promote awareness and the need for public health policy debate on women and lung cancer.

This report did state that lung cancer develops differently in women and men. Differences included risk factors for developing lung cancer, clinical characteristics, disease progression and length of survival. Examples stated were:

  • Women who never smoked had a greater risk (one in five) for developing lung cancer than men who never smoked.
  • Women tend to develop lung cancer at a younger age than men.
  • Women are more likely than men to be diagnosed in early stages of lung cancer.
  • Women tend to live longer than men after treatment for lung cancer.

Although lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women, it is a largely preventable disease. How can women reduce their risk of having lung cancer? (1) If you smoke, quit; (2) avoid secondhand smoke; (3) test your home for radon; (4) eat a healthy diet; and (5) exercise. Also, be aware of lung cancer symptoms. Common symptoms include:

  • Persistent cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hoarseness
  • Repeated lung infections, such as pneumonia or bronchitis
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Back and shoulder pain

The Lung Cancer Alliance quoted that federal research funding in 2007 from the National Cancer Institute, Department of Defense, and Centers for Disease Control was $23,754 per breast cancer death whereas only $1,414 was funded per lung cancer death.

Lung cancer currently receives the least amount of research dollars as compared to all other major cancers. Earlier this year, the American Cancer Society and Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C), a charitable organization that supports cancer research, have joined forces to focus on lung cancer.

The collaboration of these two organizations will give $20 million in funding over a three-year period for lung cancer research to develop new therapies for new life-saving treatments.

New lung cancer treatments are on the horizon as research continues and more clinical trials are in process. The National Lung Screening Trial has provided scientific validation for screening those at high risk for lung cancer using low dose CT scans may reduce lung cancer mortality by 20 percent.

Other research involves molecular testing on tumors to match patients to appropriate targeted therapy. Most importantly, more efforts are needed for smoking cessation programs.

You can help by getting involved in efforts to raise awareness and funds. Start by going to websites, such as lungforce.org (sponsored by the American Lung Association), shinealightonlungcancer.org from the Lung Cancer Alliance, unitingagainstlungcancer.org or checking the American Cancer Society’s Web site.

DuBois will be hosting its first Shine a Light on Lung Cancer event on Nov. 21st, from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. in the Penn Highlands DuBois facility. Please come and join to provide hope, inspiration and support, empowering others to help promote lung cancer awareness.

Dr. Sandeep Bansal at The Lung Center at Penn Highlands Healthcare concludes with the Lung Center’s mission:  “The Lung Center at Penn Highlands Healthcare is founded on one simple philosophy – every patient deserves and receives the highest quality care. We provide individualized, patient-centered care that is built on evidence-based medicine, state-of-the-art technology and compassion.”

The Women’s Health Task Force is a small group volunteering its time to educate women and families on important health issues. If you have an interest in health, work in a caring profession or want to volunteer with other sincere women, consider attending our monthly planning meetings.

These meetings are held the first Thursday of each month beginning at 12 p.m. The next meeting will be held Nov. 6 at Penn State Extension in Clearfield County, 511 Spruce St., Suite 4, Clearfield.

All interested people are encouraged to attend. Additional information is available by calling Penn State Extension, at 814-765-7878.

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