Kristie L. Kahl: We’re seeing younger women, never-smokers, being diagnosed with lung cancer, do we know why that’s happening?
Andrew Ciupek: We don’t fully understand why yet. We’ve noticed that since the 1960s, there has been increasing rates of lung cancer in women compared to men, especially in younger, never smoking women, which is a disturbing trend. We’ve started to explore it, but we don’t know they underlying cause of it. For instance, in 2018, the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society published in The New England Journal of Medicine, that noted the increasing rate of lung cancer in women. But they also noted they don’t think it is due to differences in smoking. That is because since the 1960s, smoking rates between men and women in the United States have become similar.
We know there’s a lot of other causes that contribute to it and there’s been a lot of theories. Some are certain environmental exposures like radon or other occupational exposures that certain professions might be exposed to, but it could also be due to certain genetic predispositions among certain women, possibly family histories. But we don’t really know fully what explains this rising increase or which one is most important or how it contributes.
Research is really necessary to drive forward and better understand this to get a better handle on these trends and how we can better help educate younger, never-smoking women. Also, we want to try to prevent lung cancer in this group.
Kristie L. Kahl: Is there any research currently going on?
Andrew Ciupek: There is definitely academic and epidemiologic research looking at some of the causes I’ve talked about — what some of the environmental exposures might be, determining that genetic link. Really we need a lot more research in this area. Driving that forward is one of the things that is going to help the most.
Kristie L. Kahl: Why is this happening more in never-smokers?
Andrew Ciupek: Not everyone knows, but about 20% of lung cancer cases are actually diagnosed in people who have never smoked. Although we see this increasing trend in young, never-smoking women, this is the trend that can help a lot of these lung cancer patients to find out why never-smokers are developing lung cancer and understanding these possible environmental exposures or occupational exposures. That can help people of both genders. Although there are higher rates of women who develop lung cancer, there are also men who have never smoked and are developing blood cancer. We need to understand why lugn cancer rates are increasing in this group of women. First, we can contribute that research to people who are never-smokers across genders and also younger people who are being diagnosed across genders. That is why it’s so important to drive research in this area. It’s going to have wide-reaching implications beyond this one group.
Kristie L. Kahl: Why should more people want to get involved so we can understand this better?
Andrew Ciupek: It’s really important because as we understand the causes behind this increase in the rate of lung cancer in young never-smokers, we’re going to want to understand better treatment strategies for these patients. There is some thought that the biology might be different if lung cancer develops in these less (common) groups. Also, we’re going to gain insight into some of the best prevention strategies for this. If we understand the underlying causes, we can educate the never-smokers and women about their risk and what the appropriate prevention strategies might be.
To do something like that we need to look at it at a national level and make it a priority in the country. That is why we support the Women in Lung Cancer Research and Preventive Services Act, which is really asking the government to support this and make it a priority. How it does that is it asks the Health and Human Services Department, which runs things like the NIH and is positioned well to do these nationwide campaigns for prevention and educating a lot of people to make this a priority in three ways. One, is driving research into the causes of never-smoking, younger lung cancer patients who are women. The second is taking that information and coming up with preventative strategies that we can use to help these people who are at risk once we understand what’s making them at risk. And three, coming up with ways to have nationwide education campaigns for people who are at risk and others to know they are at risk and the kinds of things they can do to help. That is why we’re really asking people who have been impacted by lung cancer and people who really care about this to support this bill. One of the ways to do that is to ask your Congress members to support this act. That’s going to go such a long way, sharing the voice and knowing there are people who care about this and that it is a priority. It’s going to help all of these people to make it a priority for the entire country.
People can go to our website at Go2Foundation.org, and find out more about the act and how they can get involved and really press this forward because it is something that we’d really like to see reversed. We can all work together to do it.
Transcript edited for clarity.