Which patient groups are at highest risk for non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)?

Updated: Jul 15, 2021
  • Author: Winston W Tan, MD, FACP; Chief Editor: Nagla Abdel Karim, MD, PhD  more...
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Lung cancer occurs predominately in persons aged 50-70 years. The probability of developing lung cancer remains very low until age 39 years in both sexes. It then slowly starts to rise and peaks among those older than 70 years. The risk of developing lung cancer remains higher among men in all age groups after age 40 years.

Overall, lung cancer is more common in men than in women. In the United States, Northern Europe, and Western Europe, the prevalence of lung cancer has been decreasing in men. In Eastern and Southern European countries, the incidence of lung cancer has been rapidly increasing. Most Western countries have encountered a disturbing trend of increasing prevalence in women and younger patients. Women have a higher incidence of localized disease at presentation and of adenocarcinoma and typically are younger when they present with symptoms.

Over the past two decades, the incidence of lung cancer has generally decreased in both men and women 30 to 54 years of age in all races and ethnic groups. However, the incidence has declined more steeply in men. As a result, lung cancer rates in younger women have become higher than those in younger men. In non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics ages 44 to 49 years, for example, the female-to-male rate ratio for lung cancer incidence rose from 0.88 during 1995-1999 to 1.17 during 2010-2014. [24]

This reversal can be explained in part by increased rates of cigarette smoking in women born since 1965. However, while the difference in smoking rates in that age group has narrowed, rates in women have generally not exceeded the rates in men, so other factors may be playing a role. For example, women may be more susceptible to the oncogenic effects of smoking. [24]

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