JUN 16, 2018 07:00 AM PDT

Lung Cancer Rates Increasing in White and Hispanic Young Women

An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine on May 23, 2018 has found that the incidence of lung cancer is increasing in young white and Hispanic women born after 1965.  This finding is notable and concerning because the incidence of lung cancer in men has been declining and historically has always been more prevalent than in women.

The authors determined that these differences cannot be attributed entirely to women’s changing pattern of smoking in recent years; additional contributing factors are, as of yet, unknown.

The historical literature has shown that women were typically less likely to smoke and if they did, they smoked fewer cigarettes than men.  In as recent a time as the 1960s, the gap in smoking prevalence between the sexes narrowed to where it is today.  Over the last few decades, lung cancer diagnosis and related deaths have overall decreased in both genders, there were some striking concerns.  For white women ages 40-44, lung cancer rates swung from 12% below men during the 1990s to 17% higher than men in 2010-2014 years.  Lung cancer rates are also surprisingly higher in some Hispanic women in certain age categories.  The rates for women of other races or cultures (African American or Asian descent) have steadily declined consistent with the decrease in lung cancer in men. 

The group is not sure if young women are more susceptible to the health risks posed by smoking and why this is specific to white and Hispanic women and not all women.  Additional research is certainly warranted.

Public health campaigns were a large part of the solution in the late 20th century.  As more people quit, more demanded healthier environments that did not include smoking.  Changes in smoking policy affected the food and service industries; initially the decision to disallow smoking was seen as extremely negative but with more research definitively linking it to cancer and other disease developments, the greater population began to embrace those changes.  Nowadays, there are still locales with less stringent smoking policies and when you encounter one, you’re transported to a time when smoking was allowed everywhere, and more people were getting sick and dying from it.  The public health notices and anti-smoking marketing seemed to fall into the shadows a bit and now, In the very recent past, there are more young people picking it up again.  There is also the danger of vaping which is touted as safer; however, more and more research shows there are indeed dangers we know and likely many that are unknown at this time.  There are more television ads again focused on anti-smoking campaigns and our communities have the opportunity to continue to educate about the immediate and definite long-term hazards of smoking and being around those who smoke. 

Sources: New England Journal of Medicine, National Cancer Society,  

About the Author
  • Mauri S. Brueggeman is a Medical Laboratory Scientist and Educator with a background in Cytogenetics and a Masters in Education from the University of Minnesota. She has worked in the clinical laboratory, taught at the University of Minnesota, and been in post secondary healthcare education administration. She is passionate about advances and leadership in science, medicine, and education.
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