Younger lung cancer patients, ineligible for screening, are often diagnosed at advanced stages, unlike their older counterparts, highlighting a need for early detection methods.

Younger lung cancer patients are more likely to be diagnosed at later, more advanced stages compared to older patients, according to new research presented at the 2022 World Conference on Lung Cancer. While lung cancer screening guidelines in the U.S. target high-risk people over 50, leading to earlier diagnosis in this group, there has been minimal improvement in early diagnosis for patients under 50 who are ineligible for screening. From 2010-2018, over 75% of lung cancer patients aged 20-29 were diagnosed at stage IV, compared to only 40% of those aged 70-79. Additionally, the research found a shift towards earlier stage diagnosis in older patients over 50, but no such shift for younger patients.

The onset of lung cancer screening for high-risk people over 50 in the U.S. has likely contributed to more early-stage diagnosis in this older population. In contrast, the lack of screening for those under 50, who are not eligible, means cancer is often detected at later, harder-to-treat stages in these younger patients. Strategies to improve early lung cancer detection in young people are badly needed, according to the study’s author, Alexandra Potter. Over the 2010-2018 study period, an estimated 1,328 lung cancer cases occurred in patients 20-29, 5,682 cases in patients 30-39, and 39,323 cases in patients aged 40-49.

In summary, this research presented at the world’s largest lung cancer conference highlights a troubling disparity in survival odds for younger versus older patients. While screening advances have led to earlier diagnosis and better outcomes in patients over 50, there has been little progress for young people ineligible for screening who tend to be diagnosed late. Developing ways to detect lung cancer early in younger, unscreened groups could help address this inequity in lung cancer survival.

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