Lung cancer death rates for women worldwide are expected to increase over the next 12 years and the problem will be worse in high-income countries than middle-income ones, according to a new study published Wednesday in the Journal of Cancer Research.
Although cancer death rates overall are on a steady decline for women, the study, conducted by researchers in Spain, predicts that lung cancer deaths among women will rise 43 percent globally by 2030, while breast cancer deaths are expected to increase at a much slower rate -- just 9 percent in the next decade or so. The study looked at data for 52 countries between 2008 and 2014 from the World Health Organization's (WHO) Mortality Database.
Lung cancer is the deadliest cancer in the world with 1.69 million deaths in 2015 alone, according to the WHO. But while its incidence in men has been declining after experiencing a sharp epidemic, researchers found, the lung cancer epidemic in women has generally started later.
According to the American Cancer Society, among women, the specific cancers that lead to death most frequently are breast, colorectal, lung, cervix and stomach cancers. Breast cancer mortality rates have fallen thanks to better prevention and management, the study found.
But lung cancer trends in women have been more negative. Although new lung cancer cases over the past 39 years have dropped by 32 percent for men, they have risen 94 percent for women in the U.S., alone, according to the American Lung Association.
Lung cancer is, of course, linked to heavy smoking, and to exposure to substances like radon and asbestos. Statistics from Global Youth Tobacco Survey (GYTS) predict that smoking rates in women will increase because of increasing social freedom, access to money, and increased marketing of tobacco products to women.
The study also recommends that public health officials and lawmakers consider different strategies on how to help women quit smoking (or, better yet, convince them not to start). It’s the easiest way to slow down the projected trend of lung cancer deaths in women.
"This research is particularly important because it provides evidence for health professionals and policymakers to decide global strategies to reduce the health, social, and economic impact of lung cancer among women in the future," Dr. Juan Carlos Martínez-Sánchez, one of the leaders of the study, told ABC News.
Dr. Lecia Sequist, a medical oncologist who specializes in lung cancer from Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, said she hopes the study's findings will help raise awareness about the growing epidemic of lung cancer in women and its various causes.
"The incidence of lung cancer in women who never smoked is rising for reasons that are not yet clear," Sequist told ABC News. "With this in mind, we can not only improve care for individual women (such as considering lung cancer as a possible diagnosis earlier in the work-up for women with respiratory symptoms) but restructure health care policies and research funding priorities to better address modern issues related to lung cancer."
Detection is much higher in America for breast cancer than lung cancer, according to JAMA. Additionally, most women are aware that mammograms provide early screening; female smokers aren’t as aware that CAT scans are now available to try to detect lung cancer.
Dr. Aditi Vyas is a resident in the ABC News Medical Unit specializing in radiology and occupational and environmental medicine.