Younger women who have never smoked are at increasing risk of lung cancer, research shows

Ama Daetz Image
Tuesday, November 7, 2023
Lung cancer on the rise in young, non-smoking women: research
New research shows younger women who have never smoked are increasingly at risk of lung cancer.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- There is an emerging health crisis involving women under the age of 55.

Lung cancer carries the stigma of smoking. But, as ABC7 News anchor Ama Daetz explains, new research shows young women who have never smoked are increasingly at risk.

Young women are overtaking young men, and it's not something to brag about when we're talking about lung cancer.

RELATED: More adults should be screened for lung cancer under updated guideline, American Cancer Society says

"Lung cancer is the second most prevalent cancer in women in the U.S. It's also the second most prevalent cancer in men in the U.S. But both in the U.S. and worldwide, it's actually the leading cause of cancer-related death," said UCSF thoracic surgeon Dr. Johannes Kratz.

Kratz removes lung cancer. He took some time to talk with ABC7 between surgeries to explain recently-released, new research by the American Cancer Society.

We know smoking rates in the U.S. have declined over the past several decades, and, with it, lung cancer rates have dropped as well. But here's where things get interesting.

"We're uncovering more and more cases in people who have never smoked who have lung cancer, and they're increasingly younger, increasingly female, and so now I think it's starting to enter the public consciousness as the health crisis that it really is," Dr. Kratz said.

We're talking about women from around age 30 to 55.

"It is surprising because it goes contrary to our normal perception of who gets lung cancer," said Dr. Kratz.

Datez: But then the question is why?

Kratz: Yeah, that's a great question and we don't quite understand that, unfortunately.

But there are some clues. In addition to environmental factors, Dr. Kratz points to lung cancer rates in Asia, particularly in never smoking Asian female patients. He says there appears to be something in the genetic background that causes them to get a specific type of lung cancer.

Daetz: OK, that's pretty scary. So what can we do, is it early testing? How do you know if you should even get tested? If you can get tested.

Kratz: You can always ask your provider, if you have a significant risk factor, whether they would consider ordering a screening CT scan for you and that is the best we can do right now in absence of universal guidelines on who should be getting lung cancer screening CTs.

Daetz: So talk to your doctor, have a conversation, bring it up...

Kratz: Talk to your doctor, have a conversation, exactly. It doesn't just kill smokers anymore.

Dr. Kratz points out the best way to help combat the number one cancer killer in the U.S. and worldwide is to be an advocate for lung cancer research.

You can make a donation to the American Cancer Society here.

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