October 30, 2019

Lung Cancer in Women: Signs and Symptoms

While some diseases affect both genders in the same way, that isn’t true of other medical conditions like cancer. New research on cancer, in general, and lung cancer, in particular, indicates that there are notable differences between how the disease affects men and women.

For example, while lung cancer is closely linked to cigarette smoking and far more men than women smoke, women still account for approximately half of all new lung cancer cases. And, while lung cancer rates have fallen for men and women aged 30 to 54, young women are now developing lung cancer more often than young men.

This blog post will address lung cancer in women in particular, including the signs of lung cancer in females and how they differ from those in men. Learn more about women and lung cancer here.

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Signs and Symptoms of Lung Cancer in Women

Many of the symptoms of lung cancer in women are similar to those in men. These include persistent cough, loss of appetite, and weight loss. But whereas squamous cell lung cancer is more common in men, adenocarcinomas are more common in women. And because this form of cancer often grows in areas away from the airways and produces tumors that can reach a significant size before they’re detected. Signs of lung cancer in women tend to include:

● Shortness of breath that increases gradually
● Fatigue
● Chest pain
● Back pain

The chest and back pain that may be early symptoms of lung cancer in females can be caused by cancer spreading to bones in those areas.

How Common Is Lung Cancer In Women?

Cigarette smoking plays a role in approximately 8 out of 10 lung cancer deaths each year. So, reducing smoking or quitting smoking can make a significant difference in a woman’s lung cancer risk. And because the disease can grow and spread quickly in some cases, being alert for the signs of lung cancer in female smokers is important. This includes those who smoke cigarettes and marijuana, as both increase lung cancer risk.

Women and Lung Cancer: Common Types

As noted above, the most common type of lung cancer in women (and also in non-smokers) is adenocarcinoma, which is a non-small cell lung cancer. This differs from men, in whom small cell lung cancer is more common. Most cases of small cell lung cancer are associated with tobacco use.

Women And Lung Cancer: Genetic & Hormonal Factors

Research on lung cancer in women continues, but one factor in why it’s different from lung cancer in men may be the hormone estrogen. Lab experiments have shown that estrogen encourages the growth of tumor cells and that cancer cell growth can be inhibited by treatments that block estrogen. Discoveries related to hormones and lung cancer have led to new therapies that may help women experience better outcomes.

Treatment for Lung Cancer in Females

Lung cancer treatment depends upon how far the condition has progressed, a person’s overall health and his or her preferences. Treatment methods may include:


Surgery is meant to remove all of the lung cancer and a margin of healthy surrounding tissue. If lung cancer is detected at an early stage and has not spread (or has only spread to a couple of adjacent lymph nodes), surgery can be curative.


Chemotherapy uses special drugs designed to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be administered as a pill or injected into the bloodstream and may be given before surgery to shrink a tumor, after surgery to kill remaining cancer cells and as a means of reducing symptoms. 

Radiation Therapy

This treatment uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. The radiation may be directed specifically to the lung or administered to various sites throughout the body. Most often, radiation treatments are given five days a week for several weeks. 

Targeted Therapy

Certain drugs can treat lung cancer by taking advantage of specific defects in cancer cells that fuel their growth or by targeting genetic mutations. 

Learn More About Lung Cancer Symptoms from Baptist Health

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