NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – For decades lung cancer rates have been higher in me, mostly due to tobacco use, but now an alarming new trend among younger women has cancer experts concerned.

For example, Millie Torchia is fighting a battle she never saw coming, reports CBS’s Dr. Max Gomez.

“Eleven months ago, I was feeling pain in my shoulder and a little bit of cough,” she 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, herself a non-smoker, in fact had <a href=”http://“>stage IV lung cancer.

“I felt like my life was going to end at that moment,” said Torchia. “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, women under age 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 greater risk of being diagnosed with lung cancer than men,” said Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at 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,” he said. “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 in her cancer which 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,” she said. “That is my hope.”

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