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Women plagued by lung cancer

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Posted on Wed, Apr. 14, 2004

Women plagued by lung cancer

An epidemic of lung cancer among American women has been quietly growing for decades, and an end to the upsurge appears nowhere in sight, doctors will report today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For women, deaths due to lung cancer now outstrip those caused by breast cancer and all gynecologic cancers combined, the researchers said. The team of medical scientists who assessed the scope of lung cancer in women say mortality has continued to climb in women even as smoking and deaths from the disease have declined in men.

Deaths caused by smoking rose 600 percent in U.S. women between 1930 to 1997, and continues to rise, the team of scientists said. Drawn to cigarettes largely as a method of weight control, young women are as attracted to the habit as their counterparts were in the era of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, researchers said Tuesday.

''This is a true epidemic,'' said Dr. Jyoti Patel, an instructor in hematology and oncology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. ``The numbers are far beyond what we would have imagined 30 years ago. In fact, the numbers are in excess of what we would have predicted, and they continue to increase.''

The American Cancer Society estimates 68,510 women will die of lung cancer this year compared with 40,110 who will die of breast cancer. Another 16,090 will die of ovarian cancer and 7,090 of uterine cancer.

''People need to realize that lung cancer is a women's disease,'' added Patel, lead author of the study. ``When you talk to most women, they don't seem to realize that they have a real susceptibility to lung cancer.''

Dr. Mark Kris, chief of thoracic oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, said not only have smoking-incidence and lung-cancer deaths risen in women for seven decades, they have continued to do so because the social pressures that drive smoking have not changed.

``The core message of the paper is the number of young women who start smoking and how that number has grown astronomically, especially in the last decade or so.

''The face of lung cancer has changed,`` Kris added. ``It used to occur mostly among people who were current smokers. The average person now getting cancer stopped smoking decades ago.'' Risks for the disease never decline to zero, Kris said. Genetic damage remains in the lungs decades after smoking ceases.

Kris and his colleagues also found a biologic disparity between the sexes when comparing smokers and their cancers.

Women smokers are more likely to have estrogen receptors stippling their tumor cells, driving the growth of lung cancer.

Despite the devastating mortality rate, women fare better than men when treated for the disease, especially with the new so-called targeted therapies that home in on vulnerable sites on tumor cells.

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Women plagued by lung cancer

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