Smoking Isn't The Only Risk For Women When It Comes To Lung Cancer

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking accounts for 80% to 90% of all lung cancer deaths in the United States. Tobacco contains more than 70 known carcinogens, including chemicals such as arsenic, says the American Cancer Society. These chemicals can damage the DNA in your lung cells and cause them to grow and multiply abnormally, leading to cancer. Your risk of getting lung cancer might increase based on the number of cigarettes you smoke daily as well as the number of years you've been smoking, says the CDC.

The American Cancer Society explains that quitting smoking reduces your risk of developing lung cancer. Interestingly, the risk decreases significantly after quitting. Ten years after smoking cessation, the risk drops to about half that of a continuing smoker. 

In addition to smoking, women should pay attention to the various other lung cancer risk factors explained below.

Other risk factors for lung cancer

One of the major risk factors is exposure to radon gas — a  naturally occurring substance usually found in rocks and water. When the gas is released from the ground, it can seep into homes and buildings, accumulating at high levels. Breathing in high levels of radon gas over time can increase the risk of lung cancer, says the CDC.

Exposure to air pollution, particularly fine particulate matter, has also been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer, says the American Lung Association. Fine particulate matter comprises tiny particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs, causing inflammation and damaging lung tissue. They can also enter the bloodstream through the lungs.

Women who work in mining, construction, and chemical manufacturing industries may be exposed to carcinogens such as asbestos, arsenic, and diesel exhaust, which can increase the risk of lung cancer. It's important to be aware of these risk factors and reduce exposure.

Is menopause linked to an increased risk of lung cancer?

The relationship between menopause and lung cancer isn't fully understood, and studies seem mixed. 

Some studies suggest that women who go through menopause may be at increased risk for lung cancer. One 2021 study published in the journal Maturitas found that postmenopausal women (mostly those with a smoking history) were at increased risk for lung cancer. Another study reiterates this claim, linking the increased risk to hormone replacement therapy. The 2011 study suggests that hormone replacement therapy is linked to increased incidence of (and death from) lung cancer.

However, more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between menopause and lung cancer. Interestingly, one 2020 study published in the British Journal of Cancer states that menopause is associated with a decreased risk.

Please remember that smoking is still the leading cause of lung cancer; and, as mentioned earlier, quitting smoking is the most effective way to reduce your risk. Discuss any steps to reduce your risk with your doctor if you are a current or former smoker.