Concerning Lung Cancer Trend Prompts Warnings About Smoking
- A new study published in Jama Oncology revealed that within the last two decades, women younger than 50 are being diagnosed with lung cancer at higher rates than men in the same age group. Researchers point to smoking as a major risk factor for the alarming trend.
- Researchers now better understand the types of lung cancer smokers tend to have compared to non-smokers. Treatment options for lung cancer patients also depend on if a history of smoking exists.
- Lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer and the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women in the U.S. It often doesn’t cause symptoms until it has already spread outside the lungs, making it harder to catch in its early stages.
- Treating lung cancer depends on the cancer’s location and how advanced it is. Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these treatments.
A new study finds more young women are diagnosed with lung cancer at alarmingly higher rates than young men, seemingly reversing the decades-long trend. One such example is Dana Reeve, the wife of “Superman” actor Christopher Reeve, who was diagnosed at just 44 years old. However, researchers with the American Cancer Society, who backed the study, found that, more recently, the concerning trend warrants greater awareness about lung cancer’s most significant known cause – smoking.
The study was published in Jama Oncology. Its results found that lung cancer rates dropped at higher rates for men younger than 50 between 2000 and 2004 and 2015 and 2019.Read More
WATCH: Diagnosing lung cancer is challenging because symptoms often appear much later.
The diagnosis was challenging for Reeve’s family, especially her then-teenage son. Adding to the emotional toll, she was not a smoker, dramatically enhancing your chance of getting this kind of cancer.
“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,” Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, senior vice president of surveillance and health equity science at the American Cancer Society and lead author of the research study said in a press release.
Researchers who participated in the study pointed to cigarette smoking as a cause.
“Lung cancer is still the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.,” Jemal said.
“To mitigate the high burden of the disease in young and middle-aged women, greater effort is needed to promote smoking cessation at provider and community levels,” he continued.
Helping Patients Cope with Lung Cancer Diagnosis
- 7 Lung Cancer Symptoms to Know; This Disease Can Be Tricky to Catch Early & Doesn’t Just Affect Smokers
- 87% of Eligible People Skipped Lung Cancer Screening, Analysis Finds; Knowing the Importance of Lung Cancer Screenings
- A New Development in the Fight Against Lung Cancer Explaining the Liquid Biopsy
- A New Option for Some People With Lung Cancer: How This Immunotherapy/Chemotherapy Combo Can Increase Treatment Success
Smokers and Non-Smokers Impacted by Lung Cancer
Although smoking is a significant risk factor for lung cancer, some patients are still diagnosed with the disease despite not being a smoker. Researchers have a better understanding of the types of lung cancer smokers tend to have compared to non-smokers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says “about 50% to 60%” of lung cancer patients are diagnosed with adenocarcinomas, and “10% to 20%” are diagnosed with squamous cell carcinomas. These types of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancers.
“The good news is that the types of lung cancer that nonsmokers tend to get are usually driven by a molecular change or mutation that can be detected in the tumor, and there are drugs and therapeutics available for them,” Yale Medicine thoracic medical oncologist Dr. Anne Chiang explained in Yale Medicine.
WATCH: Lung cancer smokers and non-smokers.
“Among patients who are nonsmokers, or former very light smokers, we identify a mutation that we can target with pills in about 60% to 70% of them,” Dr. Ronald Natale, a medical oncologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, tells SurvivorNet.
“That leaves 30% or so, 40%, in whom we either have a target for which we do not have successful treatment,” he continued.
Lung cancer patients with a smoking history are more likely to be treated with chemotherapy. These patients tend to have more complex cancers.
“We have a lot more research to do, a lot more discoveries to make before we will be abandoning chemotherapy in the majority of patients with lung cancer, namely the 85% who’ve been lifelong cigarette smokers,” Dr. Natale said.
Understanding Lung Cancer
As we discussed earlier, lung cancer is challenging because it is asymptomatic until it reaches later stages.
“It causes no issues until it has spread somewhere. So, if it spreads to the bones, it may cause pain. If it spreads to the brain, it may cause something not subtle, like a seizure,” says thoracic surgeon-in-chief at Temple University Health System Dr. Joseph Friedberg.
Scans such as X-rays can help doctors determine if a shadow appears, which can prompt further testing for lung cancer.
Lung cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms until it has already spread outside the lungs, according to SurvivorNet’s experts.
There are two main types of lung cancer, which doctors group together based on how they act and how they’re treated:
- Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) is the most common type, making up about 85% of cases.
- Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is less common but tends to grow faster than NSCLC and is treated very differently.
Smoking causes most cases of this cancer. The CDC reports that Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 different chemicals, at least 70 of which are known to cause cancer.
If you quit smoking, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing and dying from the disease.
Some people with lung cancer may experience symptoms such as:
- A cough that doesn’t go away, gets worse or brings up bloody phlegm.
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Hoarse voice
- Appetite loss
- Weight loss
If you are experiencing these kinds of symptoms consistently, contact your doctor for further tests.
Treatment options for lung cancer depend on its type, location, and staging. Treatment methods generally include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these treatments.
Questions for Your Doctor
If you are diagnosed with lung cancer and are concerned about the long-term impacts, here are some questions you can ask your doctor.
- Has my cancer spread to other parts of the body?
- Based on my cancer stage, what are my treatment options?
- What are the side effects of my recommended treatment?
- Are there ways to help minimize the effects of treatment?
- How long will I be unable to work or carry out my daily activities?
- What financial resources are available to get the treatments I need?