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Let's clear the facts on women and lung cancer

See if you know the answer to this one: What's the leading cause of cancer deaths in women? If you said breast cancer, you're wrong. Lung cancer is the biggest killer, and the death rate is soaring, up and over 550 percent since 1950. The simple and awful reason is that every day more girls and women smoke cigarettes.

More than 25 million American women smoke. One out of every four girls under the age of 18 smokes. There were more than 80,000 cases of lung cancer among women last year, and it is predicted that by the year 2000 more women than men will die of the disease. Yet because the cancer is 85 percent preventable, it gets little attention. (It's worth noting, however, that not all lung cancer patients are smokers; some eight to 10 percent have no recognizable risk factors.)

How is lung cancer detected?
In its early stages and even later, lung cancer is usually silent. When symptoms occur, the cancer is often advanced. Symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Chronic cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain

A chest X-ray is recommended for those who have smoked 15 years or more, who have been exposed to radon or asbestos or who have a family history of lung cancer. Women heavily exposed to secondhand smoke should also have a chest X-ray.

Every year for the last 12 years, lung cancer deaths in women have exceeded breast cancer deaths, and the gap continues to widen.


  • At least 15 percent of smokers will develop lung cancer.
  • Women are twice as likely to develop lung cancer from cigarette smoking as men are.
  • It's never too late to kick the habit. Five to 20 years after quitting, ex-smokers run the same risk of developing cancer as those who have never smoked.

The Baptist Health Cancer Resource Center offers a wealth of information on cancer prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment. The Cancer Resource Center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To reach the center, call (502) 896-3009 or fax (502) 896-3010. The Cancer Resource Center is a service of Baptist Health Cancer Care.