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Lung Cancer Is Now More Prevalent Among Young Women Than In Men: Study

May 24, 2018 08:08 AM EDT
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Women are now at a greater risk of lung cancer than men, despite historical trends that say otherwise. The role reversal is surprising and still a mystery to experts.

In a new research paper studying lung cancer, researchers break down the new trends in the deadly disease that's the leading cause of cancer death and the second most common cancer in the United States.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, analyzed nationwide population-based incidence rates of lung cancer in 30- to 54-year-olds, taking into account sex, race or ethnic group, age group, year of birth, and year of diagnosis. The research includes data in cases from 1995 to 2014.

Lung Cancer: Alarming New Findings For Women

The good news is, lung cancer incidence rates have actually decreased in men and women ages 30 to 54 years old, regardless of sex or race. It's important to note, though, that the decline for male-specific incidences is steeper.

Breaking down the numbers, the researchers see new trends begin to emerge including an increase in the female-to-male incidence rate ratios among non-Hispanic white groups. Particularly, females who are 30 to 49 years old are more likely to get lung cancer.

Lead study author Ahmedin Jemal, PhD tells BuzzFeed News that while lung cancer rates in female non-Hispanic blacks and Asians/Pacific Islanders in the United States aren't higher than their male counterparts yet, the numbers are getting close to crossing over.

Identifying A Reason For The Shift

An easy justification for the shift may be smoking, especially since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it is the leading cause of cancer. Cigarettes are reportedly behind 90 percent of the lung cancer fatalities in the United States.

However, the study authors dismiss it as the primary reason for the switch. After all, they point out, women don't necessarily smoke more than men.

"While prevalence of smoking among men and women has converged over the past several decades, smoking prevalence among women has still generally not exceeded that of men," Jemal explains in a statement on CBS News. "We do not believe sex differences in smoking behavior explain our finding of a gender crossover."

He offers BuzzFeed News a couple of the team's hypotheses on what's behind the sudden rise in female lung cancer incidence rates. One possibility is that women are less likely to kick the habit of smoking than men. While there are no studies proving it, women may also simply be more susceptible to the negative effects of smoking or more prone to non-smoking-related lung cancer.

The researchers say further studies are necessary to explain the reason behind the rise of lung cancer in women.

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