Lung cancer risk higher in young US women than men — ‘very concerning’

Lung cancer incidence rates in the US are higher in younger women than in men, a finding which an expert has called “very concerning”, especially given the reasons why are unclear.

This is the conclusion of researchers who analyzed data on cases of lung and bronchial cancer diagnosed between 2000 and 2019.

The data was collected by the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program, which covers nearly half of the US population.

The team found that declines in lung cancer rates between the period 2000–2004 and 2015–2019 were greater among men than women — resulting in higher incidence rates among women aged 35–54 years.

For example, they explained, the rate per 100,000 person-years decreased by 44 percent in men aged 50–54, but by only 20 percent in women.

(Person time is a common measure of the total time-at-risk that all the participants in a given study contribute to the research.)

As a result, the female-to-male incidence ratio increased from 0.73 during 2000–2004 to 1.05 during 2015-2019.

The study was undertaken by cancer epidemiologist Dr Ahmedin Jemal, of the American Cancer Society, and his colleagues.

Dr Jemal said: “These findings are very concerning. We don’t know why lung cancer incidence rates among younger and middle-aged individuals are now higher in women than men, reversing the historical pattern.

“Cigarette smoking prevalence, the major risk factor for lung cancer in the United States, is not higher in younger women than younger men, as are other established risk factors such as occupational exposures.”

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Dr Jemal added: “Lung cancer is still the leading cause of cancer death in the US, with 80 percent of cases and deaths caused by cigarette smoking.

“To mitigate the high burden of the disease in young and middle-aged women, greater effort is needed to promote tobacco cessation at provider and community levels.”

A push is also needed, he said, to “improve access to tobacco cessation aids and programs through expansion of Medicaid, and increase lung cancer screening in eligible women.

He added: “Also, further research is needed to shed light on the reasons for the higher lung cancer incidence in younger and middle-aged women.”

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Lisa Lacasee is the president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which campaigns for increased access to lung cancer screenings.

She said: “This research further amplifies the critical need for reducing all barriers to access to care to ensure that women are able to immediately address any symptoms — as well as access preventive and early detection screenings at no cost.

“By removing barriers to screenings and adequately funding federal and state tobacco control programs, lawmakers can decrease lung cancer deaths and help end cancer as we know it, for everyone.”

The full findings of the study were published in the journal JAMA Oncology.

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