Trend Rolls On: Women at Higher Lung Cancer Risk

2 min read

Oct. 13, 2023 – Researchers are calling for intensified smoking cessation efforts and lung screenings among young and middle-aged women after a new analysis showed they are increasingly more likely than men to be diagnosed with lung cancer. 

The trend has been under way in recent years. A new report from American Cancer Society researchers shows that in addition to women ages 30 to 50 years old being more likely than men to develop lung cancer, now women ages 50 to 54 years old are also being diagnosed at higher rates compared to men of the same age. The findings were published Thursday in JAMA Oncology.

Overall, the rate of lung cancer among both genders has continued its general downward trend during the past two decades, but the decline has been steeper among men than among women, the analysis showed. The study included health data for about half the U.S. population from 2000 to 2019.

The researchers are perplexed at the differing rates of decline between genders, because women are not as likely to smoke as men. According to the CDC, 13% of men in the U.S. smoked in 2021, and 10% of women smoked. 

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. There were about 238,000 new cases of lung cancer in the U.S. in 2023, and 127,000 deaths, according to National Cancer Institute data. About 75% of people diagnosed with lung cancer do not live at least five years past the year of diagnosis.

“These findings are very concerning,” said lead author Ahmedin Jemal, DVM, PhD, senior vice president of surveillance and health equity science at the American Cancer Society, in a statement. “We don’t know why lung cancer incidence rates among younger and middle-aged individuals are now higher in women than men, reversing the historical pattern. Cigarette smoking prevalence, the major risk factor for lung cancer in the United States, is not higher in younger women than younger men, as are other established risk factors such as occupational exposures.”

People age 50 to 80 years old who smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes per day for 20 years (or, two packs daily for 10 years) should be screened for lung cancer annually if they still smoke or if they quit within the past 15 years, according to federal guidelines.