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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Tobacco Companies Target Blacks, Indians, Women

More Women Die Of Lung Cancer Than Breast Cancer

The best way to evaluate the issue of social and racial targeting is to analyze the facts. Smoking rates are higher among some racial subgroups than others, while smoking among people of lower socioeconomic status is much higher than those from middle and upper classes.

Black smokers are 50 percent more likely to die of lung cancer than smokers of other races. Each year, about 45,000 African Americans die from a smoking-related disease.

One possible explanation for a higher death rate among blacks is menthol cigarettes. This is a growing, minority-dominated market segment primarily consisting of blacks and Hispanics.

Menthol cigarettes deliver more tar and nicotine than other cigarettes, while numbing the throat. Because of the numbing effect, those who smoke menthol cigarettes typically inhale deeper than other smokers, which expose more of the lung to the smoke. In fact, African-American women are the most susceptible to menthol-related diseases. Although there are several varieties of menthol cigarettes, the Newport brand dominates this product category.

smoke cigar and cancer

Furthermore, studies have found a higher frequency of tobacco advertisements in publications that appeal to African Americans than in those that target general audiences. Before tobacco billboards were banned, another study found the highest density of tobacco billboards in African American communities and the lowest density in white communities. Plus, a study by the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that blacks are less likely to quit their nicotine habit than white people.

The racial subgroup at greatest risk from tobacco-related diseases could be the American Indians and Alaska Natives. On one hand, tobacco is considered a sacred gift and has been used in their religious ceremonies for centuries. Complicating the issue, American Indian and Alaska Native lands are sovereign and are not subject to laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to minors. Therefore, Native American children have easy access to tobacco products at a very young age. As a result, 41 percent of male high school seniors from this population smoke, while 39.4 percent of female seniors smoke cigarettes.

native Americans and tobacco

The use of snuff and spit tobacco also is higher among Indian Americans and Alaska Natives than among other racial subgroups. About 4.5 percent of this population uses chewing tobacco or snuff, compared to 3.4 percent of whites, 3.0 percent of African Americans, 0.8 percent of Hispanics and 0.6 percent of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Tobacco companies promote directly to these audiences by sponsoring cultural events, such as powwows and rodeos.

In addition to racial subgroups, tobacco companies are targeting women, with images of slender and attractive users who are independent, confident and popular. Tobacco companies have targeted women since the 1920s. In fact, one of the earliest tobacco pitches aimed at women said, “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.” Later, women were told they deserved a Virginia Slim cigarette with the campaign, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

teen smoking

Between 1991 and 1999 alone, smoking rates among high school girls increased by nearly 30 percent (from 27 percent to 34.9 percent). Since only 18 percent of adult women smoke, these teens will boost smoking rates among women as they age. As a consequence, lung cancer among women is increasing and has been the leading form of cancer among women since 1987. About 1.5 times more women die from lung cancer than breast cancer—68,000 each year.

All tolled, about 173,000 American women die each year from tobacco-related diseases. Women now account for about 39 percent of all tobacco-related deaths—a proportion that has doubled since 1965.

In addition, about 20 percent of pregnant women in the U.S. smoke. Many other expectant mothers are exposed to second-hand smoke. The dangers include miscarriage, mental retardation, low birth weight and a variety of other complications that can require neonatal intensive care.

In May 2001, The World Health Organization (WHO) urged governments around the world to do more to reduce smoking-related diseases among women. It pointed to aggressive tobacco marketing and exposure to second-hand smoke as the cause for increases in related diseases in a 222-page study, “Women and the Tobacco Epidemic—Challenges for the 21st Century.”

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More Women Die From Lung Cancer Than Breast Cancer

Lung Cancer Kills More Women Than Breast Cancer

Women of every age know the threat that breast cancer poses. Girls grow up watching their mothers march against it, and that activism has brought much needed resources and attention to the disease. Yet the cancer that kills more women each year than breast, ovarian and cervical cancers combined is lung cancer. Because it was once mostly a male disease, and because it is associated with smoking, women assume if they never smoked, or if they stopped years ago, they don’t need to be on the lookout for this deadly cancer.But they do. Two-thirds of lung cancer’s female victims quit at least a decade earlier or never smoked at all.

smoking and lung cancer among women

Yet the stigma of smoking and the shame people feel for bringing on their illness has caused women to delay seeking medical attention in the early stages of lung cancer. As a result, lung cancer rates have continued to rise, and 23 years ago the disease overtook breast cancer as the leading cause of death in women. Yet who knew?

At a Capitol Hill briefing last week, the Lung Cancer Alliance released a report about women and cancer titled, “Out of the Shadows,” which documents the gaps in research funding and the need for equality in disease treatment. Lung cancer is now the cancer that women are most likely to die from. Among the report’s findings: Women who have never smoked appear to be at two to three times greater risk for developing lung cancer than men who have never smoked. Women tend to develop lung cancer at younger ages than men, and the disease is striking more younger women who have never smoked. The report was prepared by Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Women’s Health Policy and Advocacy Program at the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology.

Learn more from the new book, Smoking Sucks. Visit