Lung cancer is a silent killer of women; if you're at risk, get screened

November 12, 2014 | by Sayeh Hirmand

During October, everything seems to turn pink - clothing, the NFL logo, tape dispensers, boxing gloves, blenders, soup cans, you name it - in order to raise awareness for what many believe is the most dangerous cancer that affects women: breast cancer. But, in addition to thinking pink, women should also think pearl. That color represents lung cancer.

Lung cancer specialist Karen Reckamp, M.D. Lung cancer isn't just a smoker's disease, or a male disease. Karen Reckamp, lung cancer specialist, gives her perspective on lung cancer in women.

Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer of women, killing almost twice as many women as any other cancer. This year alone, it is estimated that lung cancer will claim the lives of 72,330 women.

When asked about the increasing rate of lung cancer in women, Karen Reckamp, M.D., M.S., co-director of the Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program at City of Hope, summed it up this way: “The main reason for the increase is due to smoking. The smoking trend began later among women, so we are now seeing the result. While there has been and overall lung cancer decline in the last decade, there are some places in the country, like the South, where rates for women are still increasing."

But, Reckamp quickly points out that lung cancer is not just a smoker’s disease. Although smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, other factors increase risk of the disease as well, such as exposure to radon, air pollution, even genetics.{C}

“Lung cancer remains asymptomatic and silent until it generally grows and becomes metastatic or advanced; therefore, most lung cancer cases are not diagnosed until later stages," she said.

But there is hope. Patients between the ages of 55 and 80 and who have a prior smoking history of at least 30 pack years are eligible to be screened for lung cancer. A pack year is considered the equivalent of smoking a pack-a-day for a year, so 30 pack years can equal someone with a pack-a-day habit for 30 years, a two-pack-a-day habit for 15 years, or a three-pack-a-day habit for 10 years and so forth.

Being screened at a designated Center of Excellence, such as City of Hope, increases the chance of diagnosing lung cancer at an early stage. That's when it's most treatable.

What can women do to protect their lung health? Be proactive, stay informed and raise awareness of lung cancer's toll. If you smoke, seek help from a professional to help you quit. If you fit the screening guidelines, get screened.

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Learn more about lung cancer treatment and research at City of Hope. For more information on lung cancer screening, call 626-218-9410 or e-mail [email protected] to speak with someone from the Lung Cancer Screening Program.

Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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