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Is Lung Cancer on the Rise in Young Women?

Is Lung Cancer on the Rise in Young Women?
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Published on February 18, 2020

A study published last week in the International Journal of Cancer reports that lung cancer rates are rising among younger women while simultaneously declining among younger men. The study, led by Miranda Fidler-Benaoudia, PhD, a research scientist and epidemiologist at Alberta Health Services in Alberta, Canada, examined lung cancer rates in 40 countries, between men and women, in 5-year age groups from 30 to 64 years. This is what they found:

“Lung-cancer rates among women and men have been converging. In this international study, the authors found that, while lung-cancer rates have declined among younger men, they are rising among younger women, despite the fact that these women are not smoking more than men. Adenocarcinoma appears to account for much of this increase. These findings forewarn of a higher lung-cancer burden among women in the future, especially in higher-income settings.” 

Historically, lung cancer rates have been higher in men, which the authors of the study say is because men tend to start smoking earlier in life and smoke more often than women. As noted above, however, researchers could not tie the increase in lung cancer rates for younger women, defined as 30 to 49 years, to an increase in smoking. They also noticed that “the six countries demonstrating a significant crossover are among those considered to be more advanced in the tobacco epidemic.” Those countries are Canada, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the United States.

Without being able to identify a cause for the rising lung cancer incidence and the fact that it appears to be happening at a faster rate in countries with strong national anti-tobacco campaigns, is it possible that this study is an anomaly? Unfortunately, no.

A similar study, conducted in the United States and published in the New England Journal of Medicine on May 24, 2018, identified a similar trend. The authors of that study wrote:

“Among persons born since the mid-1960s, incidence rates of lung cancer have become significantly higher among young women than among young men, with the higher burden confined to whites and Hispanics. Except for a minimally higher smoking prevalence among white women than men 40 to 49 years of age born around the mid-1960s (due to delayed smoking cessation among women), sex differences in smoking behaviors do not explain this finding.”

Both reports concluded that more research needs to be done to determine exactly why lung cancer appears to be on the rise in younger women compared to their male counterparts. To read the complete studies, click the links below: 

Lung cancer incidence in young women vs. young men: A systematic analysis in 40 countries.
International Journal of Cancer; February 5, 2020. 

Higher Lung Cancer Incidence in Young Women Than Young Men in the United States.
New England Journal of Medicine; May 24, 2018.

As more research develops on this important topic, we’ll continue to keep you informed. Bookmark our lung cancer community page and subscribe to our Patient Power eNews for emerging news and updates. 

~Suzanne Mooney

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of our sponsors, contributors, partners or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.


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