Women with lung cancer survive slightly longer than men with the disease, respond differently to at least one cancer drug, and show higher levels of tobacco-induced genetic damage in their lungs, say researchers from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and Northwestern University in Chicago.
Some differences may stem from the effects of estrogen, whether naturally occurring or taken as a drug, and the scientists said more women should be included in studies of lung cancer to find out whether particular methods of treatment, prevention, and detection are best suited to them.
Nearly 80% of cases of lung cancer in women were the result of smoking. From 1930 to 1997, as more women began smoking, their death rate from lung cancer rose by 600%. Since the 1960s, smoking rates for American men have decreased by nearly 50% and by 25% for women.
The disease kills more women in the U.S. than any other cancer—as many as breast cancer and all gynecological cancers combined.
It is not known whether men and women who smoke are equally susceptible to lung cancer. Women are more likely to have adenocarcinoma, the most common lung cancer among non-smokers. Some studies suggest that natural or synthetic estrogen might stimulate adenocarcinomas. Women who smoke have a more active version of a gene that makes chemicals in cigarette smoke more harmful to cells. Estrogen might make that gene more active.