Study Finds Racial Disparity in Lung Cancer Incidence Reversed Among Young Adults

Trends in lung cancer incidence rates in young Black people versus young white people in the United States has reversed, with the Black/white gap disappearing in men and reversing in women, according to a study published in JNCI Cancer Spectrum.

In this study, researchers from the American Cancer Society evaluated smoking prevalence data and national lung cancer incidence rates for Black and white people by sex among contemporary young birth cohorts.

According to the results, researchers observed incidence decreased in both Black and white men born since about 1947 and in women born since abut 1957, with steeper declines observed in Black people juxtaposed to their white counterparts.  Those steeper declines led to the Black/white gap disappearing in men born in 1967 to 1972 and reversing in women born since about 1967, according to the researchers. Similarly, the researchers noted, historically higher smoking rates in Black people versus white people disappeared in men and reversed in women born since about 1965.

The researchers noted one exemption in declines. The authors identified increasing lung cancer incidence rates in Black men born around 1977-1982, which indeed led to higher lung cancer incidence rates in Black than white men born during this period. “This increase likely reflects the steep rise in initiation of smoking among Black adolescents in 1990s, which coincided with the R.J. Reynold’s tobacco advertisement campaign targeting African Americans,” the authors wrote, according to a press release. “Between 1991 and 1997, the prevalence of current cigarette use among Black high school students doubled from 14.1% to 28.2%.”

“Our study reflects the success of national, state, and local anti-tobacco public health policies and activities in the Black community despite the tobacco companies’ targeted and deceptive marketing strategies,” said Dr. Jemal. “At the same time, the increase in lung cancer incidence among Black men born around 1982 reflects the lack of strong public health policies to prevent the rise in smoking initiation in 1990s.”

The authors added, “While these patterns herald progress in reducing racial disparities in lung cancer occurrence and the success of tobacco control in the Black community, the increasing lung cancer incidence rates in Black men born circa 1977-1982 is concerning and underscores the need for targeted tobacco prevention interventions.”