Females and males may experience similar symptoms of lung cancer. Symptoms of lung cancer in females can include shortness of breath, wheezing, hoarseness, and more.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), lung cancer is the second most common type in males and females, not counting skin cancer. For both sexes, it is the leading cause of cancer-related death.

In this article, we look at the effects of lung cancer in females, risk factors, treatments, and the outlook.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

Was this helpful?
Rear View Of Woman With Hair Bun Standing Against Wall considering lung cancer in womenShare on Pinterest
Francesco Sambati/EyeEm/Getty Images

Males and females experience very similar symptoms of lung cancer, which can include:

Anyone who experiences these symptoms should see a doctor.

Learn more about lung cancer.

The risk factors for lung cancer are similar among males and females. They include:

Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke remain the most significant risk factors for lung cancer.

An older 2014 review, published in Seminars in Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, proposes that certain genes and hormones contribute to an increased lung cancer mortality rate in females.


The researchers have identified several genes that may explain the differing lung cancer rates among females and males. A person can inherit some of these genes, while tobacco exposure activates others.


KRAS is a gene; any mutation may make cancerous tumors grow more quickly. A mutation may also make the tumors more likely to spread.

The review suggests that KRAS mutations may make lung cancer growth more aggressive after exposure to estrogen, a female sex hormone, as well as other hormones.


The review associates gastric-releasing peptide receptor (GRPR) activity with cancer cell growth.

This receptor is more active in females, and exposure to estrogen may increase its effects.


Epidermal growth factor (EGFR) is a protein often present in people with lung cancer. Mutations in the EGFR gene are significantly more common in females than males.

HER2 is a part of the EGFR group of genes present in many adenocarcinoma cases. HER2 has links to poorer survival rates among females with lung cancer.


Researchers have found estrogen receptors in lung cancer cells in males and females.

The same 2014 review on genes and hormones in lung cancer development suggested that estrogen encourages the growth of tumor cells. It has also demonstrated the cancer-suppressing effects of treatments that block estrogen.

Long-term exposure to estrogen may affect lung cancer risk. Factors that may affect estrogen levels include:

  • the number of pregnancies, if any
  • the age at first menstruation
  • the age at which menopause began

The right treatments for lung cancer depend on the cancer’s stage at diagnosis.

A surgeon can often remove small tumors that have not spread. Some doctors may recommend chemotherapy or radiation therapy to support surgery and make sure that no cancerous cells remain.

If the lung cancer has spread significantly, surgery is usually not an option. At this stage, a doctor may still recommend radiation therapy to help control complications and reduce pain and discomfort.

Traditionally, there was no difference in how doctors treated lung cancer in males and females.

However, research exploring hormonal and genetic aspects of lung cancer has led to new therapies that may be more effective in females than males.

Learn more about breast cancer that has spread to the lungs.

What are the three warning signs of lung cancer?

Three warning signs of lung cancer include a persistent worsening cough, shortness of breath, and chest infections.

Do you cough up a lot of phlegm with lung cancer?

Lung cancer symptoms can involve coughing up phlegm that may contain blood.

What is life expectancy for lung cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the 5-year relative survival rate for non-small cell lung cancer is:

  • 65% for localized
  • 37% for regional
  • 9% for distant
  • 28% for overall

While the symptoms are similar, the rates of cancer and cancer-related death are different among males and females. More research is necessary to reduce the risk of the disease.

Lung cancer has a poor prognosis.

The ACS use 5-year survival rates to estimate a person’s life expectancy after diagnosis. This figure conveys the likelihood that a person with a certain type and stage of cancer will live for at least 5 years after the diagnosis.

For people with non-small cell lung cancer, the overall 5-year survival rate is 28%. For people with small cell lung cancer, the overall survival rate is 7%.

Maintaining a healthful lifestyle and avoiding exposure to smoke can help everyone reduce their risk of developing lung cancer.

Signs and symptoms of lung cancer in females can include shortness of breath, wheezing, fatigue, and more. Males and females tend to experience similar symptoms.

Treatment for lung cancer includes chemotherapy, radiation therapy, depending on the diagnosis and stage. Having a healthful lifestyle, avoiding exposure to smoke, and quitting overall smoking, can help everyone reduce their risk of developing lung cancer.