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Lung cancer incidence in young women ‘now higher than among men’

Among white and Hispanic people born after 1965, rates of lung cancer are now higher in women than men, according to researchers from the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute. 

The study, published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine, revealed an overall decline in incidences of lung cancer, yet the drop was significantly more pronounced among men. Between 1995 and 1999, white women between 40 and 44 years of age had a 12 percent lower rate of lung cancer, yet in the 2010-14 period, this rose to 17 percent higher than men. 

Researchers noted that smoking patterns were an insufficient explanation for the change in lung cancer incidence rates, prompting the authors to suggest more research is needed to identify the underlying cause for the change in trend.

“We do not believe sex differences in smoking behavior explain our finding of a gender crossover. For example: the crossover also occurred among Hispanics, even though smoking continues to be less common in young Hispanic women than young Hispanic men,” said the lead author of the study Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, PhD.

The authors speculated women may be more susceptible to the hazardous effects of smoking, or that women may be more likely to develop lung cancer despite quitting smoking. Jemal added that the latest research provides an opportunity to encourage more research into gender-specific lung cancer risk and to step up efforts to decrease smoking among young women. 

“Quitting at any age is beneficial… But if you quit at a younger age, you remove most of the excess risk of lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases associated with smoking,” he stated. 

In 2015, almost seven out of ten adult smokers in the United States expressed an interest in quitting completely. FDA approved medication to help people quit smoking includes Zyban (bupropion) and Chantix (varenicline).  

Behind female breast cancer and prostate cancer, lung cancer is the third most common newly diagnosed form of the disease in the United States, according to cancer statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the condition causes the highest number of cancer deaths, more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.  

Once diagnosed, there are several treatment options for lung cancer, including radiation therapy, chemotherapy, surgical intervention, and targeted drug therapy. Targeted treatments, such as Tarceva (erlotinib), Gilotrif (afatinib), and Avastin (bevacizumab) are a relatively new development in lung cancer medicine and work by attacking the cancer cells through a specific mechanism. 

For example, bevacizumab stops a substance called the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) from stimulating the growth of new tumors. It is sometimes combined with chemotherapy as a treatment for people with certain non-small lung cancer, including adenocarcinoma and large cell carcinoma.