Lung Cancer Rising Among Younger Women

Lung Cancer Dropping Among Young Men

In a reversal of historical patterns, lung cancer is now more common among young U.S. women than men, a new study finds.

The good news, researchers found, is that over the past two decades, lung cancer rates among 35- to 54-year-old Americans have dropped across the board.

But the decline has been steeper among men so that now, incidence of the disease is higher in white and Hispanic women born since the mid-1960s.

advertising smoking

Among blacks and Asian-Americans, meanwhile, women have caught up with men, according to findings published in the May 24 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The question now is why, said lead researcher Dr. Ahmedin Jemal of the American Cancer Society.

“The higher incidence among women is not fully explained by smoking,” he said.

About 85 percent of lung cancer cases in the United States are related to smoking, according to Jemal. So it’s logical to think that smoking habits would account for shifting patterns in lung cancer.

It’s true, Jemal said, that American women and men have become increasingly similar in their smoking rates. But men still typically smoke more cigarettes per day. And among Hispanic Americans, he said, smoking remains more common among men than women.

Jemal could only guess about why the lung cancer rate has fallen to a greater degree among men. One possibility, he said, is that female smokers who quit have a slower decrease in their lung cancer risk compared male smokers.

He noted that women and men tend to differ in the types of lung cancer they develop. A form called adenocarcinoma is more common in women — and the risk of that lung cancer typically dips at a slower rate among former smokers, compared with other forms of the disease.

smoking tobacco and mental illness

Some research has suggested women might be more biologically vulnerable to the damaging effects of cigarette smoke. But so far, Jemal said, studies have come to mixed conclusions.

Regardless of the explanation, he said, the message for smokers is clear: Quit as soon as you can.

“Smokers should know that those who quit — especially by age 40 — can largely avoid lung cancer,” Jemal said.

And while this study focused on younger adults, he added, it’s never too late to quit smoking. Even people who kick the habit at relatively older ages can lower their disease risks and add years to their life expectancy.

The findings are based on cases of invasive lung cancer diagnosed in Americans ages 30 to 54 between 1995 and 2014.

In general, the study found, the incidence of the disease dipped over time. But men saw a sharper decrease, so that the traditional male-female pattern flipped.

For example, among Americans born in the mid-1960s, the annual rate of lung cancer at the ages of 45 to 49 was about 25 cases for every 100,000 women. That compared with 23 cases for every 100,000 men.

The pattern was a turnaround from what was seen among Americans born around 1950. In that group, the rate of lung cancer among men in their late 40s was about one-quarter higher, compared with women.

“We don’t know why this change has taken place,” said Dr. Norman Edelman, senior scientific adviser for the American Lung Association, which was not involved in the study.

But it will be important to figure it out, according to Edelman. “Anything you can learn about lung cancer could eventually help us better treat or prevent the disease,” he said.

For smokers — or kids who are tempted to start — Edelman said this study highlights a crucial point: Lung cancer can arise at a young age.

“Sometimes young people are immune to messages about long-term health risks that will happen in their 60s,” he said. “If they know this can happen at age 40, that could be a very powerful message.”

Edelman also stressed that many smokers need five or more tries before they successfully quit. But, he said, help is out there, and smokers should keep trying until they find that tactic that works.

In general, Edelman said, a combination of medication and some form of support program is most effective.

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Lung Cancer Rates Climbing Among Women

More Women Die From Lung Cancer Than Breast Cancer

Health officials have raised concerns about the continuing rise in the number of women who are diagnosed with lung cancer. While the number of men who develop the disease has rapidly decreased since 1990, the incidence among women has slowly crept up.

lung cancer women
Lung cancer rates rising among women.


In 1990, 32.6 out of every 100,000 women in England developed lung cancer, but the incidence has increased to 39 out of every 100,000 in 2011. Experts at Public Health England have urged people to take part in Stoptober – the annual challenge encouraging smokers to quit for the whole month of October – to attempt to buck the trend. Many smokers will snuff out their last cigarette as they take part in the mass quit attempt, which starts today.

Although more men smoke than women, the number of women in the United States who smoke has increased significantly over the past few decades. Meanwhile, the number of lung cancer deaths in women increased by more than 600% between 1950 and 1997. Recently, though, the number of new cases of lung cancer in women has begun to decrease. However, this rate of decline has been smaller than the rate of decline in men. Between 2004 and 2008, new cases of lung cancer decreased by 1.9% in men each year while it only fell by 0.3% in women.

Although the health risks of cigarette smoking have been well publicized in the United States, many women still decide to start smoking, most as teenagers and young adults. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 500,000 teenage girls use tobacco products. Some of the reasons girls and women may be attracted to smoking include a belief that smoking can help control weight and advertising messages that focus on themes of friendship with other women, self-confidence, freedom, and independence.

Risk factors for women

It is important to understand that although smoking is the biggest cause of lung cancer, women who have never smoked are also diagnosed with this disease. In fact, lung cancer is diagnosed three times more in never-smoking women than in never-smoking men. This may be linked to exposure to carcinogens (substances that can cause cancer, such as secondhand smoke, radon, and asbestos), which increase the risk of lung cancer. In addition, women may have genetic and hormonal differences that affect the development of lung cancer in never-smokers, as well as in those who smoke. These include:

  • Genes that make women more vulnerable to the harmful effects of tobacco smoke
  • Differences in how the chemicals in tobacco are metabolized (broken down) by the female body
  • Higher levels of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone, which  could directly or indirectly affect cancer growth

But research has shown that people who stop smoking for 28 days are five times more likely to stay smoke-free.

Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, said: “We are seeing worrying levels of smoking among women which is clearly having an impact on their health and reported cases of lung cancer. Smoking is one of the main causes of lung cancer, and survival rates are very poor. Less than a third (30 percent) of people diagnosed with lung cancer will survive the first year, and only 8 percent will still be alive five years later.

“That’s why it’s important that people give Stoptober a go. We encourage all smokers to join the thousands of other taking part and help dramatically improve their long and short-term health.”

Kate Alley, the charity’s tobacco policy manager, said: “Quitting smoking is the best thing smokers can do for their health but breaking the nicotine addiction can be difficult. Initiatives like Stoptober are invaluable in giving smokers dedicated quit support for an entire month.


“Loosening the lethal grip of tobacco addiction must remain a priority if we are going to reduce the number of lives lost to smoking. We encourage all smokers to sign up and take the first steps to a healthier, tobacco free future.”