Researchers reported Tuesday that women are up to three times more likely than men to develop lung cancer from smoking, and that women smokers’ risk for lung cancer remains higher than men’s risk even after they kick the habit.
Genetic factors offer at least a partial explanation for women’s increased risk. The Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported last week that women are three times more likely than men to have a genetic mutation (K-ras) that is associated with agressive lung cancer. Scientist suspect that the K-ras mutation may be caused by smoking, and that mutated cells may feed on estrogen.
47-year-old Nancy Dura smoked a pack of cigarettes a day when she was in her twenties, and later quit smoking, started exercising and improved her diet. Despite these positive changes, Dura’s body was unable to overcome the damage done by her past smoking. She developed lung cancer two years ago at age 45. Her cancer had reached an advanced stage before her doctors detected it.
Dr. Michael Unger of Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia confirmed that there are many women who share Dura’s fate. “We see more and more young women with much more explosive cancer,” Unger explained. The Centers for Disease Control’s statistics on smoking-related mortalities report that, between 1960 and 1990, the number of women who died from lung cancer increased by over 400 percent.