How Does Lung Cancer Affect Women?

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With me now are two of the most renowned experts in the field of lung cancer, Dr. Otis Brawley is Chief Medical Officer of the American Cancer Society and a professor of medicine at Emory University, Dr. Regina Vidaver is the Executive Director of the National Lung Cancer Partnership and a molecular biologist.

So, Dr. Brawley, lets start with the broad theme, how big is a problem is lung cancer for women? Lung cancer is a significant problem for women, it is the largest killer of women in terms of cancers. It's a significant killer almost rivarling cardiac disease and something that we do really need to focus on.

Dr. Vivader talk to us something little bit about smoking and lung cancer, besides smoking what are the largest causes of lung cancer in women? Obviously, we have to say number one it is smoking, but people who have already quit smoking remain at risk for up to 20 years or longer.

There are other risk factors such as exposure to especially due to secondhand smoke, but predominantly it actually just the genetic cards that we're dealt. Genetic cards that we're dealt? Yes. So for folks your home, you could never be a smoker, and still have the chance to get lung cancer.

It's not small? I wouldn't say that it is not small but it's not zero. So, you absolutely, if you've lungs, you can get lung cancer, is the message that we want to say. So people need to be vigilant about the symptoms and understand that it is the top cancer killer in the country.

Let me drive this point home. You do not need to be a smoker to be at risk for lung cancer. 20, 000 non-smokers, who we diagnosed for lung cancer this year alone. Are you guys surprised to here that? It's pretty shocking, isn't it? Now you heard in the tape piece, my next guest were also shocked.

Joining me now are two incredibly brave women fighting lung cancer and neither smokes, nor lives with a smoker, Earlene Van, thank s for joining me. Earlene let me start with you, what went through your mind when you first heard that diagnosis you have lung cancer? It didn't make sense.

I grew up in a non-smoking house. I was a non-smoker. I took care of myself, I was young, just never heard of it. And I remember just sitting on the kitchen floor. I could here my kids running around giggling, and I'm like, I really, this is how I'm going to die. Because everyone I knew that had lung cancer, they just didn't make it.

And when you tell folks that you have lungs cancer, do they assume you're a smoker? Initially when, and it's been six and a half years since my diagnosis. It was one of the first questions that people would always ask, and I use it as a teaching moment when people ask about smoking, and I have seen over the course the last few years it's no longer the first question, and I think maybe because in the last six years that I've been diagnosed, I have seen a little bit more information about lung cancer in the news it's starting to come out a little bit more.

I was always struck by this when I went through my training. I'm a heart surgeon but you also do lung surgery when you do heart surgery, you operate in the entire chest. And I'll go out and talk to families that had just learned and for me this other diagnosis. And I had to deal with the pain they felt.

And there's almost this very visceral desire for someone when they find out the someone else has lung cancer to assume they did something wrong to cause it. Almost a protective mechanism I feel. And I would get angry about it on behalf for the patients. Because you almost feel if I can blame you for getting your cancer then I don't have to worry about it as much.

Did you have blame or anger or frustration? I was frustrated, I was frustrated because for example my brother was diagnosed with prostate cancer and he was relatively young as 49. No one asked him how comes he has prostate cancer, but everyone seemed to think it was Okay for them to ask me then if I wasn't a smoker why did I how did I get lung cancer? Did you ever figure it out?  No, but I hope if this disease would finally get some, it's been overlooked and under funded for many, many years.

For the last 40 years, the statistics have not changed at all, and one of the things that I have been trying to do is to raise awareness and as more people become aware then more money would go into research for this disease and then maybe we can figure it out, what are some of the other causes of this disease.

Wendy there and thank you very much again for sharing your stories.