When it comes to health, experts say that one of the best ways we protect ourselves is by always “checking in” with our own bodies. Lung cancer, in particular, kills more women a year than any other form of cancer, but few women are aware of all the symptoms, particularly those specific to their gender.
Lung Cancer Awareness Month is marked in November every year. It is a day set aside to raise awareness about lung cancer and to encourage its prevention, detection and treatment. In Nigeria, members of the public still see cancer as a disease of the wealthy, the elderly and developed countries. Many sufferers of the disease in the country still regard it as their fate and, as such, a death sentence. Cancer is not just a health issue; it has far-reaching social and economic implications.
How common is lung cancer in women?
Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women; about 1 out of 4 cancer deaths are from lung cancer. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. According to a recent study, more young women will die of lung cancer this year than young men. Once considered a “man’s disease,” lung cancer is no longer discriminatory. In 2017 it is estimated that 116,990 men and 105,510 women will be diagnosed with the disease.
While lung cancer diagnoses have been decreasing for men, they are staying relatively stable for women. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women, killing more women each year than breast cancer, uterine cancer, and ovarian cancer combined.
According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer in both men and women, with more than 200,000 Americans predicted to be diagnosed in 2017 alone. In Sub-Saharan Africa, it is reported that only 17 percent of African countries are said to have sufficiently funded cancer control programmes, while less than half of all countries in the world have functional plans to prevent the disease and provide treatment and care to patients. WHO indicates that the shortage of functional cancer control plans is especially alarming in developing countries, which already account for more than two-thirds of the new cancer cases and deaths each year.
According to the American Cancer Society, the signs to look out for in lung cancer include:
A cough that does not go away or gets worse
Coughing up blood or rust-coloured sputum (spit or phlegm)
Chest pain that is often worse with deep breathing, coughing, or laughing
Weight loss and loss of appetite
Shortness of breath
Feeling tired or weak
Infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia that don’t go away or keep coming back
New onset of wheezing
Smoking or exposure to second hand smoke remains by and large the biggest and most significant risk factor associated with lung cancer. Smoking accounts for a vast majority of all kinds of lung cancer, a staggering 85 percent. Despite far fewer women smoking cigarettes than men, they still account for nearly half of all new cases. And even though cancer deaths in men have been declining since 1990, lung cancer deaths among women continue to rise.
The World Health Organisation has called on governments to place a total ban on the advertising of tobacco and tobacco products. However, among non-smokers, women may be at a higher risk than men. A study published in Seminars of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery found that: “In the U.S. and Europe, approximately 20 percent of women with lung cancer have never smoked versus 2-6 percent of non-smoking men.”