Why Non-Smoking Asian Women Get Lung Cancer

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Why Non-Smoking Asian Women Get Lung Cancer


Smoking continues to be the top cause of lung cancer but Asian women who never smoke are increasingly being diagnosed with the condition.
Dr Ang Mei Kim, Senior Consultant from the Division of Medical Oncology at National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), a member of the SingHealth group, shares more.

A study by the NCCS found that three in 10 lung cancer patients never smoked (referred to as "never-smokers"), and this incidence appears to be rising,

Furthermore, more than half the never-smokers seen at NCCS are usually diagnosed with advanced stage (Stages 3 of 4) lung cancer.

"There are few tell-tale signs. It sneaks up on them (never-smokers) to deal a heavy blow. Usual symptoms at the time of the lung cancer diagnosis are cough, blood in the phlegm, chest pain, breathlessness and weight loss," said Dr Ang.

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Lung cancer: Asian women are more at risk

Dr Ang added that women seem more vulnerable than men, as 70 per cent of never-smokers with lung cancer here are women.

The statistic is even more glaring when compared globally, where it appears that Asian female non-smokers are more vulnerable to lung cancer than their Western counterparts.

"Less than 4 per cent of Chinese women in Singapore smoke compared to other countries like Germany and Italy, where one in five women smoke, yet, Singapore has a higher lung cancer rate among women (21.3 cases per 100,000 females)," said Dr Ang.

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Other causes of lung cancer besides smoking

Exposure to second-hand smoke at home or at the workplace – one of the main causes of lung cancer in never-smokers – increases the risk by 25 per cent.

Another risk factor is environmental pollutants, particularly radon. Studies in Chinese populations show that burning coal and biomass, particularly in poorly ventilated areas for cooking and heating, may also increase the risk.

"A large proportion of lung cancers in never-smokers cannot definitely be associated with any established environmental risk factor. It is also thought that certain genes, or changes that occur in the genes, may affect a person's susceptibility to these carcinogens and to developing lung cancer. This is an area of current intense research," Dr Ang added.

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