This is my second post on lung cancer, this post is about lung cancer in women. For more information on lung cancer in men, read this post – Lung Cancer in Men in Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire. 83 % of cases of lung cancer in women are caused by tobbacco, most cases are caused directly by smoking and a few are caused by passive smoking (breathing in second hand smoke) [Data from Cancer Reserach UK]
These statistics mean if you were to ask 100 women with lung cancer why they developed the disease, for 83/100 people it would have been caused by smoking. That means 17/100 women who develop lung cancer don’t smoke (or gave up smoking more than 20 years ago)
In the picture below there are 100 women with lung cancer, the yellow people are those that developed lung cancer through tobbacco (most by smoking but some from secondhand or passive smoking). The blue people are the women who developed lung cancer but never smoked (or gave up years ago). Some other causes of lung cancer include exposure to certain chemicals, especially at work (e.g. exhaust fumes, asbestos), air pollution and radon gas.
Most women diagnosed with breast cancer will live for 5 years or more after diagsnosis. Most women diagnosed with lung cancer will not.
About 80% of women, who have been diagnosed with breast cancer will live for 5 years or more, lung cancer is harder to detect and more people are diagnosed at a late (advanced) stage. Not many (about 7%) of women diagnosed with lung cancer live for 5 years or more after diagnosis. If you are worried about this statistic, please have a read of this post and the article “The Median is not the Message” by Stephen J Gould.
Smoking causes cancer. As a rule more poor people smoke, so lung cancer rates are highest in the most deprived areas and among the lowest social classes. In Scotland, in 2005 about 4,500 people were diagnosed with lung cancer, about 2500 of those people were women. [Data from Cancer Research UK]
What are the figures for Aberdeen City and Shire? The most up-to date information I could find is from 2002. In 2002 about 80 women in Aberdeen City and 50 women in Aberdeenshire were diagnosed with lung cancer. [Data from IDS Scotland]
So what about the people who don’t smoke. Why do they get cancer? We don’t really know, but a lot of labs are researching it. Radon gas causes some, but not many cases of lung cancer. radon is a natural form of radioactivity that leaks out of rocks and soil. Some areas of Southern Aberdeenshire have relatively high levels of radon. It’s not a problem outside in the open air, but can build up inside houses. There is a map of radon levels in the UK on the Defra website.
There is more information on testing for radon in your home on the Shelter website. You can order a radon detection kit from the Health Protection Agency website, it costs £42. The HPA website also has more information on radiation and radon detection.
According to Cancer Research UK, most people who die of radon induced lung cancer would not have developed the disease if they did not smoke, you can read more in this 2004 article here. So the anti-smoking message still stands.
For more information on lung cancer, look at the Macmillan Backup website, they have a lung cancer information centre. There is also information on lung cancer on the Cancer Research UK website. The Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation are the only UK research charity that fund research solely on lung cancer. The British Lung foundation, have an introduction to lung cancer and a short list of medical words and what they mean. Finally, there is a website specifically about lung cancer in women called, women against lung cancer.
In men, about 10 % of lung cancer happens in people who don’t smoke, in women 20 % of cases of lung cancer happen in people who don’t smoke. Why are the nummbers different? Why are women more likely to get lung cancer than men? Short answer, we don’t know, but there are some theories.
Some people think it may be related to the hormone estrogen, women have more estrogen than men, and about half of all adenocarcinomas (a specific type of lung cancer) have too many estrogen receptors. Some of the newer anticancer drugs, like “tarceva” may work better in women than men. The NHS in Scotland have approved tarceva for advanced cases of non-small cell lung cancer.
So to summarise, don’t smoke. Women who never smoke have a 0.8 % risk of dying of lung cancer before they reach the age of 85 years. Women who smoke have a 12 % risk. [Data from Cancer Research UK]. If you do smoke, stop now, it can make a difference. See quit.org and gosmokefree.nhs.uk for more information, help and support.