Those of us who watched the heroic struggle of paralyzed Superman actor Chris Reeve have been devastated to learn that his widow Dana Reeve, who is only 44 years old, has lung cancer?even though she has never smoked. How is this possible?

This also happened to nonsmoker Alice Trillin, wife of writer Calvin Trillin, who is most famous for his memoir “Alice, Let’s Eat.” Alice Trillin grew up in a family of chain smokers and was probably exposed to a great deal of secondhand smoke as a child. However, she did not die of lung cancer; she died of a heart condition caused by radiation treatments for her cancer.

Dr. Ruth Oratz, of the American Lung Association, says that 85 to 90% of lung cancer cases occur among smokers. However, around 25,000 nonsmokers?who have never smoked?will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year. Lung cancer is the most deadly form of cancer, killing more women than ovarian and breast cancer combined. Some women take up smoking in the mistaken belief that this will keep the weight off.

Nonsmoking women are more likely than nonsmoking men to develop lung cancer. In 2003, The Society for Women’s Health Research identified important sex differences in the genetics and basic biology of lung cancer. They discovered that nonsmoking women are more likely to get lung cancer than nonsmoking men. The main risk that women should avoid is assive smoking (inhaling secondhand smoke).

Women are also more susceptible to lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, which is the type of cancer that killed actor Steve McQueen?despite the fact that men, who are more often in the building trade, are more likely to get this type of cancer.

The conclusion: Women should stay out of smoky bars, especially if they themselves do not smoke.

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