PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Lung cancer has been a leading cancer killer for older people but now it is striking a growing number of young women who do not smoke.
Millie Torchia is fighting this battle she never saw coming.
“Eleven months ago, I was feeling pain in my shoulder and a little bit of cough,” Torchia said. “It wasn’t going away; it was just getting worse.”
After treating her for pneumonia, doctors eventually discovered the 44-year-old mother of three, a non-smoker, in fact had stage-4 lung cancer.
“Felt like my life was going to end at that moment,” Torchia said. “Of course, the first thing I thought about was my daughters because they are so young. I was like, ‘Am I going to see their next birthdays?’ I was completely broken inside.”
New research shows while lung cancer rates are declining overall in both men and women, younger women under 50 are now more likely to get lung cancer than younger men.
“All of the sudden within last 10 to 15 years, women are at a greater risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer than men,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. “We really don’t know why this is and we are going to do further research to try to find out why? We have looked at smoking issues, and smoking patterns don’t fully explain this.”
Up to 20 percent of women who get lung cancer are non-smokers like Torchia.
“I know I’m not going to be the last one; there is going to be many others just like me,” she said.
Torchia is taking a medication that targets a gene mutation and has helped reduce some of her tumors. She’s sharing her story to raise awareness for more research.
“It needs to get funded, so people like me can live, so they can see their kids grow up. That is my hope,” Torchia said.
Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer; exposure to radon is second, as it’s a colorless odorless gas that can accumulate in basements.