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Why More Young Women Are Getting Lung Cancer

November 30, 2023

While lung cancer cases in the U.S. have dropped over the last few years, they’re on the rise for certain groups – including young women.

But why are younger women more at risk? We asked a thoracic surgeon to explain.

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Younger women are getting lung cancer more often – and older women may be next.

According to new data, women – who long lagged behind men in lung cancer – are now diagnosed more often in the 30- to 54-year-old age range, says Brian Whang, MD, a thoracic surgeon with Hartford HealthCare Medical Group in Bridgeport.

“This has actually been the case since 2005 for that 30- to 49-year-old age range. In 2015, the trend extended to women ages 50 to 54,” Dr. Whang explains.

And this trend may continue to skew with older age groups, says Dr. Whang.

“Once the 2020 to 2024 data is studied, I would not be surprised if women in the 55 to 59 age group also start to surpass men, then 60 to 64 and so on,” he says.

> Related: Are You a Former Smoker? You May Still Need to Get Screened for Lung Cancer

Why lung cancer may hit women harder.

There are several reasons lung cancer diagnoses among women is rising, and it’s not because they’re smoking more, Dr. Whang continues.

First, new diagnoses among men overall are decreasing. In women, the numbers have stayed the same or decreased, but at a slower rate in younger people.

A second reason might be that women are more likely to acquire adenocarcinoma, a lung cancer often found in non-smokers, he says.

“About 20% of lung cancer cases are not directly attributable to smoking,” Dr. Whang says.

The remaining 80%, however, remains something of a mystery.

“Are women more susceptible to carcinogens that lead to lung cancer? We don’t know yet and more work needs to be done to find out,” Dr. Whang says.

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6 signs of lung cancer to watch out for

No matter your age, if you smoke or vape, Dr. Whang suggests talking to a healthcare provider if you notice any of the following:

  • Cough that won’t go away
  • Coughing up blood
  • Repeated bouts of pneumonia
  • Working harder to breathe
  • Unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Pain in the chest or arm

And if you screened for lung cancer, it may be time.

Lung cancer is curable when it’s detected early enough, Dr. Whang notes.

“We want to catch it when it’s stage I cancer. Lung cancer screenings can lower mortality by about 20%,” he explains. “Sadly, this very effective tool is sorely underutilized.”