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Special Populations Affected by Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. An estimated 228,150 new cases will be diagnosed in 2019. Roughly 142,670 people will die from lung cancer in 2019.1

Among people with lung cancer, certain groups of patients respond to treatment differently or get the disease at higher rates.

Non-smokers

Most lung cancer is linked to smoking tobacco, but up to 1 in 4 people with lung cancer never smoked or used other forms of tobacco. Non-smokers with lung cancer may have been exposed to a certain chemicals, smoke, or have a family history of the disease. Environmental exposures tied to lung cancer include radon, asbestos, air pollution, arsenic in drinking water, or fumes from diesel engines. HPV and tuberculosis infections, hormones, diet, and type 2 diabetes may also play a role in non-smoker lung cancer cases.2

The lung tumors in non-smokers are often different at a cellular level and respond differently to treatment than lung cancers in smokers. Non-smokers who get lung cancer tend to be younger and female.2-3

Women

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in women, with only breast cancer occurring more often. Plus, more women die from lung cancer than from breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers combined. Rates of lung cancer and deaths from lung cancer have increased in women.4

Research suggests that lung cancer behaves differently in women. Studies show that women develop the disease at younger ages and respond better to treatment than men. Adenocarcinoma, a type of lung cancer, is more common in women.4

Men

Men are more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer than women. African American men are the most at risk of developing lung cancer, followed by white men. Hispanic men have the lowest rates of lung cancer.1

Men are more likely to die from lung cancer than women. There are also differences in the types and genetic mutations found in men with lung cancer.1,4

Older Adults

Lung cancer affects older adults the most with 60 percent of cases diagnosed in people between ages 65 and 84. Between 2012-2016, 70 percent of lung cancer patients were 65 years or older.1

Age at time of diagnosis does not seem to predict response to treatment or long-term survival. The stage of the cancer when found gives a better guide in older people. However, treatment may be more complicated in older patients due to other health conditions. The elderly risk undertreatment, which results in poor survival rates.5

Where you live

Where you live can have a dramatic impact on your risk of developing lung cancer and your chances of survival. People in Utah have the lowest rates of lung cancer and Kentucky the highest. One in three people in Arizona receive no treatment for their lung cancer compared to 8 percent of people in North Dakota.6

CT scans of people at high risk of developing lung cancer remains one of the best ways to find and treat the disease early. But, where you live affects how likely you are to get regular scans. People living in Massachusetts Vermont are 12 times more likely to be scanned than people in Nevada or California.6

Other high risk groups

Certain groups of people get lung cancer at higher rates than the rest of the population, including:

  • People treated with radiation for other cancers such as Hodgkin lymphoma and breast cancer
  • People living with HIV
  • People with a family history of lung cancer
  • People with pulmonary fibrosis
  • Those exposed to chemicals such as asbestos, radon, arsenic, chromium, nickel, and naphthalene7
Written by: Emily Downward & Jessica Johns Pool | Last reviewed: December 2019
  1. National Cancer Institute. SEER Cancer Statistics Factsheets: Lung and Bronchus Cancer. Available at: http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/lungb.html. Accessed 11/21/19.
  2. Pallis AG, Syrigos KN. Lung cancer in never smokers: disease characteristics and risk factors. Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2013 Dec;88(3):494-503. doi: 10.1016/j.critrevonc.2013.06.011. Epub 2013 Aug 4.
  3. American Cancer Society. What Causes Lung Cancer? Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/lung-cancer.html. Accessed 11/21/19.
  4. Medscape. Lung Cancer in Women: The Differences in Epidemiology, Biology and Treatment Outcomes. Available at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/713744. Accessed 11/21/19.
  5. Maione P, et al. Treating advanced non-small cell lung cancer in the elderly. Ther Adv Med Oncol. 2010 Jul;2(4):251-260. doi: 10.1177/1758834010366707.
  6. American Lung Association. State of Lung Cancer. Available at: https://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/research/monitoring-trends-in-lung-disease/state-of-lung-cancer. Accessed 11/21/19.
  7. UpToDate. Overview of the risk factors, pathology, and clinical manifestations of lung cancer. Midthun DE. Available at: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/overview-of-the-risk-factors-pathology-and-clinical-manifestations-of-lung-cancer. Accessed 11/21/19.