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Female non-smokers suffer disproportionately

Date Published: 03/07/2006 [Source]

Female non-smokers suffer disproportionately By Rita Rubin, USA TODAY The death of Dana Reeve on Monday serves as a reminder of one of lung cancer's tragic truths.

"If there was no smoking, there would still be lung cancer," says University of Pittsburgh lung cancer researcher Jill Siegfried. In fact, she says, even if no American ever smoked, lung cancer would still be the fourth-most-commonly diagnosed malignancy in the USA.

And 85% of non-smokers diagnosed with lung cancer including, by all accounts, Reeve are women, Siegfried says. One out of five women with lung cancer never smoked, compared with one out of 10 men with lung cancer.

In general, fewer women than men smoke, but that doesn't fully explain why lung cancer patients who never smoked are overwhelmingly female, Siegfried says.

Joan Schiller is a lung cancer doctor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Frustrated with the lack of attention to women with lung cancer, Schiller founded Women Against Lung Cancer four years ago; she is the organization's president.

Schiller notes that women represent about 40% of lung cancer patients, "and nobody talks about it or wants to talk about it."

Researchers have only recently begun investigating why women who have never smoked are more likely to develop lung cancer than their male counterparts. Studies of mice suggest that estrogen may play a role, Schiller says.

About 95% of lung cancers in both sexes have estrogen receptors, Siegfried says. She and Schiller are involved in research looking at whether Faslodex, an anti-estrogen drug used to treat metastatic breast cancers that contain estrogen receptors, might be effective against metastatic lung cancers in women.

Genetics also might play a role in lung cancer risk. Just months before Reeve was diagnosed, her mother died of ovarian cancer. Siegfried says her research has found a disproportionate number of breast and ovarian cancers among the relatives of women with lung cancer.