Why do more women who are non-smokers develop lung cancer?

The incidence of lung cancer in general is higher in men than women. However, among non-smokers diagnosed with lung cancer, the incidence is higher for women than men. About 19 percent of lung cancer diagnosed in women occurs in non-smokers, compared to only 9 percent of lung cancer diagnosed in men. The exact reasons for this are not entirely known. There is a high burden of lung cancer in women in China and some other countries in Africa and Asia. This may be caused by air pollution from cooking with unventilated stoves fueled by burning coal or wood. Exposure to radiation therapy, such as for breast cancer treatment, increases the risk of lung cancer. Lastly, large randomized trials such as the Women’s Health Initiative trial show a possible association between combination hormonal therapy (estrogen-progestin) and the risk of lung cancer. A history of prior lung disease is a risk for lung cancer. It should be emphasized, however, that by far the biggest risk factor for women developing lung cancer is smoking, just as it is in men. Eighty percent of lung cancers in women occur in smokers. Smoking in combination with other risk factors (radiation for breast cancer) magnifies the risk for any single factor.

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