National Women’s Lung Health Week: The Importance of Taking Care of Your Lungs

Overview

By Mara B. Antonoff, MD, FACS

Article

The week of May 7-13 marks National Women’s Lung Health Week, as well as the week leading to Mother’s Day. The timing is rather fitting, given that lung cancer takes the lives of more women than any other malignancy. This will be the fourth annual National Women’s Lung Health Week. It was launched in May 2014 by the American Lung Association, with the purpose of bringing attention and awareness to lung diseases in women.

Why do we need a week devoted to lung health of women?

  1. Not only is lung cancer the #1 cancer in men, but it also is the #1 cancer in women.
  2. The number of women who die from lung cancer each year has nearly doubled in the last 30 years.
  3. In the US, one woman is told every 5 minutes that she has lung cancer, while another woman dies every 7.5 minutes from lung cancer.
  4. The majority of women who are diagnosed with lung cancer die within a year.

Amidst these overwhelming statistics, lung cancer is a disease that often is not given much attention by women. In our society, there is a significant emphasis on breast cancer awareness for women, despite the greater number of women who lose their lives to lung cancer. 

At the time of the first National Women’s Lung Health Week, the American Lung Association launched Lung Force, an initiative to unite women in standing together against lung cancer. During this week, women and their loved ones are encouraged to wear turquoise to show their support for a stand against lung cancer.

This year, Turquoise Takeover and National Women's Lung Health Week will highlight a special new social campaign asking you to #ShowYourLUNGFORCE to demonstrate the many ways we use our lungs every day:

  • Upload a video or photo to your social channels – Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – illustrating how you Show Your LUNG FORCE and use the hashtag #ShowYourLUNGFORCE.
  • Tag three of your friends and challenge them to do the same.
  • Donate directly from the LUNG FORCE Facebook page or donate on the website, where 100% of the proceeds will go toward lung cancer research.

With this campaign comes education and emphasis on how women can protect their lung health by not smoking and preventing exposure to second-hand smoke. However, not all lung cancer is caused by smoking. In fact, lung cancer among nonsmokers happens more often in women than in men. While the vast majority of lung cancer cases involve preventable risk factors, some women may get lung cancer without any obvious reason for increased risk, much more so than men.

For women who are at risk of lung cancer, it’s important to recognize how to reduce risk and to know when lung cancer screening may be appropriate. There’s no sure way to prevent lung, cancer, but there are actions one can take to minimize the likelihood of getting the disease. The best way for most people to reduce lung cancer risk is to not smoke and avoid second-hand smoke. In addition, for women who are current smokers or previous smokers, lung cancer screening may be appropriate, depending on duration of smoking and how many cigarettes were smoked each day.

Copyright: auremar/123RF Stock Photo

Lung cancer in women is different than it is in men. Fortunately, for women with lung cancer, the chances of survival are higher at all stages of the disease compared to men. We are just beginning to learn how genetic and hormonal influences play a role in the development of lung cancer and what might explain these differences. Perhaps there are behavioral and social differences that make an impact as well.

Lung cancer takes the lives of more mothers, sisters, and friends than breast cancer, and it also has one of the lowest survival rates. Let’s all take stand, display our turquoise, and try to make an impact on the most lethal cancer for women. Together, we can raise awareness for a disease that needs more research, more attention, and more survivors.

Read more about lung cancer.

 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Society of Thoracic Surgeons.