For reasons that are speculative at best, women who never smoked are more likely to get lung cancer than are men who never took up the habit, according to researchers here.
Data from several large cohorts of volunteers shows that the rate of lung cancer among women who never smoked ranges from 14.4 to 20.8 cases per 100,000 people, found Heather Wakelee, M.D., of Stanford.
In contrast, the rate among male never-smokers was 4.8 to 13.7 cases per 100,000 people, Dr. Wakelee and colleagues reported in the Feb. 10 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
If the figures from the various study groups are representative of the U.S. population as a whole, the researchers said, it's likely that about 8% of men and 20% of women with lung cancer never smoked, informs MedPage Today.
"I have a lot of patients who have never smoked," said Dr Heather Wakelee of Stanford University in California , who led the study.
"And because of the stigma, people are embarrassed to speak out about their disease. They feel like as soon as they say they have lung cancer, everyone judges them."
She said it is not clear why women may be more likely to get lung cancer even if they have never smoked.
"There is a lot of controversy over whether women are more susceptible to smoking at all, whether direct or secondhand smoke," Wakelee said in a telephone interview, informs Gulf News.
According to WebMD, air pollution, exposure to radon, and occupational exposure to asbestos have all been implicated in lung cancer risk. But most experts suspect that secondhand cigarette smoke exposure is the biggest risk factor for lung cancer among people who have never smoked.
"In this country, more women who don't smoke probably live with men who smoke than the other way around," the American Lung Association's chief medical officer, Norman Edelman, MD, tells WebMD.