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Lung Cancer: Still Number 1

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Lung cancer still kills more women than breast cancer does. Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer for women, men, Americans, and people worldwide. According to a review from the Mayo Clinic, we are making progress: the incidence is on the decline in the United States. But it's still Number One.

My newspaper this morning had a special pink section on breast cancer. This Number Two cancer killer of women gets ribbons, fund-raisers, annual screenings, and constant attention. Maybe it's time to give a little more attention to Number One.

Approximately 85 to 90 percent of lung cancers are attributed to smoking tobacco products. After a person stops smoking, the risk gradually decreases. Former smokers reach a level of lung health comparable to those who have never smoked if they survive smoke-free for 10 years. But too many of them die before the end of that decade. In a study of 5,000 patients with lung cancer diagnosed between 1997 and 2002, only 25 percent were current smokers and over 60 percent were former smokers.

The American Cancer Society does not yet recommend screening for lung cancer, even for individuals at risk. At first this sounds amazing to me. The Mayo Clinic article reports that the only reasonable hope for curing lung cancer is surgery at a very early stage, before the tumor develops metastases or locally advanced disease. Approximately 70 percent of cases are diagnosed too late for surgery. The overall 5-year survival rate is only 15 percent. So shouldn't we be looking for early lung cancers in smokers and former smokers?

The problem is that 25 to 60 percent of screening CT scans of smokers and former smokers show lung abnormalities. Most of these are not cancer, but it's not yet possible to identify which ones are malignant without invasive biopsy tests. The National Lung Screen Trial is currently underway to collect data on whether spiral CT scans or chest x-rays provide better data.

No one is absolutely safe from lung cancer. About 10 to 15 percent of lung cancers occur in people who have never smoked. Risk factors include air pollution, second hand smoke, and occupational exposure to inhaled carcinogens including asbestos, silica dust, and radioactive particles.

I watched one of my friends die of lung cancer. It was horrible, even with the best available care. I hope we can raise awareness and funding for this Number One cancer killer.


1. Molina JR et al, “Non-small cell lung cancer: Epidemiology, risk factors, treatment, and survivorship”, Mayo Clin Proc. 2008; 83(5): 584-594.

2. National Lung Screening Trial:

Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.

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EmpowHER Guest

I love the tone of this article. Lung cancer is one of the most deadly forms of cancer, yet also one of the least funded and most stigmatized. It's great what we do to raise awareness about breast cancer nationally, but it'd be even better to keep the momentum going by striving to find a cure during Lung Cancer Awareness Month too. Until we have a cure, education is key and posts like this are a great step.
- JD, http://www.mesorc.com

November 2, 2010 - 2:06pm
EmpowHER Guest

I would like your readers to know about the Lung Cancer Alliance. Its mission is to promote public awareness, advocacy and patient support services. Patient support services include:

Lung Cancer Information Line 1-800-298-2436. A support, information, and referral line for anyone with questions and concerns about lung cancer. Free written lung cancer materials mailed upon request.

LCA Website. A credible source for information about lung cancer, treatments, support resources, relevant news, and how you can get involved. www.lungcanceralliance.org

Lung LoveLink. An online community linking those touched by lung cancer to support, resources, and local events. Members can ask questions, respond to discussions, create personal profiles and build a network of online friends. www.lunglovelink.org.

Phone Buddy Program. Peer-to-peer telephone support for people with lung cancer and their family members/caregivers. Volunteers lend support and share information and resources. 1-800-698-0931.

Clinical Trial Matching Service. A pre-screening and referral service that identifies clinical trial options. Clinical trial specialists find available trials based on the patient's diagnosis and treatment history. 1-800-698-0931.

CaringBridge. Our partnership offers free, personalized websites to connect patients, families, and friends to share information and support during treatment and recovery. www.caringbridge.org/lungcanceralliance.

November 1, 2010 - 3:51pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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