4 facts women should know about lung cancer (w/podcast)

December 9, 2015 | by Denise Heady

At City of Hope, physicians and researchers are working tirelessly to find new and better treatments for lung cancer, especially in the most advanced and difficult-to-treat cases.

Here, Loretta Erhunmwunsee, M.D., assistant professor in the Division of Thoracic Surgery, at City of Hope, presents a fuller picture of lung cancer.

  1. Lung cancer in women is on the rise — even for nonsmokers.

    Even though smoking is the primary cause of lung cancer in women, a growing percentage of women who develop lung cancer have never smoked.

    “Smoking continues to be a significant sort of risk factor that women are exposed to, either primarily smoking themselves, or by exposure to second-hand smoke,” Erhunmwunsee said. But much more is involved when a women develops lung cancer.

    “Women in particular continue to have other sorts of risk factors that might impact their ability to have lung cancer,” Erhunmwunsee said.

    Doctors and researchers at City of Hope are determined to find out what those risk factors are – and how they affect diagnosis and treatment.
  2. The statistics don’t tell the whole story.

    Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. Lung cancer accounts for about 27 percent of all cancer deaths, and is by far the leading cause of cancer death among women. In fact, this year an estimated 105,590 women will be diagnosed with lung cancer in the United States, and approximately 71,660 women will die from it.

    But improved screening and treatment methods are having an impact.

    “It's important to understand that there aren't necessarily increased deaths from lung cancer in women,” Erhunmwunsee said. “The truth is that the number of deaths from lung cancer in women has actually plateaued and it's actually coming down a bit.”

    The number of lung cancer deaths is still far too high, Erhunmwunsee said, but the good news is that screening and treatment work.
  3. Genetic mutations can play a role.

    Smoking is still the primary risk factor, but not the only one. Genetic mutations play a part as well.

    We have a better understanding of which gene mutations lead to certain cancers and so we know that with most tumors, there is a genetic mutation that leads to it,” Erhunmwunsee says.

    “It's not the same sort of thing when you consider genetic issues that come from parents. Your parents come together and they, hopefully, will give you normal genes. In most lung cancer patients, they have normal genes but, because of the carcinogens or a pollutant, those genes may become injured and then lead to the lung cancer. So, there certainly is a genetic component.”

    Again, the more researchers learn, the better they’ll be able to fight the disease.
  4. Researchers at City of Hope are determined to find better treatments for women with lung cancer.

    As researchers work to refine their approaches to lung cancer treatment, they’ve launched an array of clinical trials to help them find answers. Surgery, radiation, drugs and a combination of approaches – all are on the table.

    “We, especially here at City of Hope, have focused on minimally invasive surgery in an attempt to improve the way we remove lung cancer from patients who have localized disease,” Erhunmwunsee said. “We also are doing more and more studies to understand the role of radiation, which may be a way to treat people with lung cancer and hope for a cure if they aren't able to undergo surgery.

    “Then, there are other sorts of therapies that are on the horizon for patients with more advanced disease,” Erhunmwunsee says. “So, the truth is there are a lot of therapies that have now been proved to be quite effective.”


Listen to Loretta Erhunmwunsee, M.D. on Lung Cancer Trends in Women and Non-smokers.


If you are looking for a second opinion about your lung cancer diagnosis or consultation about your treatment, request an appointment online or contact us at 800-826-HOPE. Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

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