Monday, October 8, 2012


Smokers used to account for 95 percent of all lung cancer cases. Today, up to 15 percent of lung cancer patients, like Dana Reeve, are nonsmokers—and of those, about 60 percent are women. "Breast cancer kills about 35,000 women each year; lung cancer kills about 70,000 women," says Dr. Jennifer Garst, a lung cancer specialist at Duke University Medical Center. Researchers do not know the exact reasons for the uptick, which may be linked to genetics, the hormone estrogen, the environment (radon gas, found in some homes, is a suspected culprit) and secondhand smoke. The bottom line? "We don't know why," says Dr. Harvey Pass, division chief of thoracic surgery at the NYU School of Medicine. What is known is that some nonsmokers, who suffer from a type of lung cancer called adenocarcinoma, are finding relief in new targeted drugs like Avastin and Tarceva. But high costs and serious side effects can be prohibitive. The hope is that Dana Reeve's death will draw attention and dollars—and help to destigmatize this misunderstood disease. As of 2005, the National Cancer Institute spent $23,000 per breast cancer death on research, but only $1,800 per lung cancer death. "The struggle," says Laurie Fenton of the Lung Cancer Alliance, "is to present lung cancer as a disease, not just as a smoking addiction."

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