Until recently, lung cancer in women was treated just like lung cancer in men—with the same tests, the same procedures, and the same medications. BWH was the first hospital in the nation to focus on gender medicine in a comprehensive way, so it is not surprising that we have a Women’s Lung Cancer Program that recognizes that lung cancer develops and progresses differently in women than in men. For instance, among non-smokers diagnosed with lung cancer - more are women and women also tend to develop lung cancer at a younger age than their male counterparts.
Unfortunately, lung cancer is not thought of as a “women’s” cancer when in fact more women die of lung cancer than breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers combined! There are other important differences as well. Some cancer types, such as adenocarcinoma and small cell carcinoma, are more common in women. Features of certain tumors (tumor-specific gene mutations) are more common in women and this has resulted in markedly improved responses in these women. In addition, women generally have a better tolerance of and response to chemotherapy. No matter what tumor type, cancer stage, or treatment choice, women have better overall survival rates than men. Based on what we’ve learned about women’s lung cancer, we approach treatment decisions with the knowledge that women can often benefit from different, targeted treatments than men and that affects treatment choices for both men and women.
Most importantly, we acknowledge that a woman wants to understand her options. We have special monthly forums that provide education and support for you during and after your treatment. From your initial lung nodule evaluation to your treatment and beyond, we welcome the opportunity to partner with you. Dr. Yolonda Colson is a leader in the treatment of lung cancer and has specialized in treating this cancer in women.