In the past fifty years, there has been a 600 percent increase in the number of women who will be diagnosed with lung cancer and die of the disease. However, the death rate for men has decreased slightly over the same period. An estimated 68,500 women will die from lung cancer this year; a number equal to all deaths for breast and gynecologic cancers combined. The increase in the number of women smokers is an obvious cause for this uptick, but a recent review article suggests that genetic, metabolic and/or hormonal factors may also be responsible for the increase in lung cancer in women which has reached epidemic proportions in this country.
The review article examining women and lung cancer by Jyoti D. Patel, M.D., of the division of Hematology/Oncology at Northwestern University, and colleagues at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, is reported in the April 14 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Mark G. Kris, M.D., chief of MSKCC’s thoracic oncology service and the study’s senior author, has noted a dramatic increase in women lung cancer in his practice. “We now see women and men in almost equal numbers. Many of these women stopped smoking twenty years ago yet still get cancer. However, their response to some targeted therapies is more favorable than for men and we are trying to figure out why.” Because of the many unknowns, study co-author Peter B. Bach, M.D., of MSKCC’s department of epidemiology and biostatistics says, “The study raises the interesting scientific question of whether or not lung cancer is different in men and women, and what that should mean for future research.”