Lung cancer is now the number one most fatal cancer for women. In the last 40 years, the rate of women dying from lung cancer has increased by 79 percent. Unfortunately, a lack of education about the disease and how it is caused has contributed to the rise of cases.

Do only smokers get lung cancer?

While the majority of lung cancer cases are caused from smoking (up to 90%), there are other risk factors. According to the American Lung Association, radon causes 10 percent of lung cancer cases, occupational exposures to carcinogens account for approximately 9 to 15 percent, and outdoor air pollution 1 to 2 percent.

Why are the numbers rising for women?

While the rate of new lung cancer cases over the past 42 years has dropped 36 percent for men, it has risen 84 percent for women. In fact, in recent years, the lung cancer rate was higher in women ages 30 to 49 in 6 countries: Canada, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and the US.

What could be causing this divergence in numbers? There are several potential factors.

One of the reasons may be that, in much of the world, women are spending more time cooking in poorly ventilated kitchens. A recent study showed that cooking indoors resulted in a significant uptick in lung cancer diagnosis in women living in India.

Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, PhD, Scientific Vice-President of the ACS Surveillance and Health Services Research program, noted two other possible factors for the increase in women’s lung cancer cases.

  • More women started smoking in the years when filtered cigarettes were most common. Filtered cigarettes increase the risk of adenocarcinoma lung cancer due to the way tobacco smoke is distributed to the outer parts of the lungs.
  • Women may have different genetic risk factors for lung cancer than men, such as not being able to repair damaged DNA or having abnormal genes related to cancer development.

Jemal warns that the problem may get even worse in the coming years.

“Our findings forewarn of a higher lung cancer burden in women than men at older ages in the decades to follow, especially in higher-income areas,” he said.

How can we help prevent lung cancer in women?

Quit Smoking

Because the vast majority of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking, quitting is still the most important thing you can do to lower your risk.  Not only does quitting benefit your health, but also the rest of your family. The Center for Disease Control notes that 7,300 lung cancer deaths a year are caused by second-hand smoke in the United States.

While many believe e-cigarettes to be less likely to cause lung cancer, there is still much to be concerned about. The American Lung Association notes that E-cigarettes contain a number of dangerous chemicals and herbicides including acetaldehyde, acrolein, and formaldehyde, which can lead to lung cancer and other serious illnesses.

Early Screening

Early detection by low dose CT screening can decrease lung cancer mortality by 14 to 20 percent among high-risk populations. About 8 million Americans qualify as high risk for lung cancer. If half of them were screened, over 12,000 lung cancer deaths could be prevented.

Manage Indoor Air

Indoor pollutants like radon, asbestos, and fine particles called PM2.5 can all increase the risk of lung cancer. There are a number of ways to keep your indoor air free of these pollutants.

  • Use radon detectors to detect the presence of radon in your home.
  • Ensure that gas stoves are well ventilated
  • Reduce the use of harsh cleaners and scented products
  • Keep windows and doors open as much as possible
  • Purchase a high-quality air purifier with a True HEPA filter that is capable of removing both particles and gases.