Though it may seem counter intuitive, African American smokers tend to smoke fewer cigarettes, but still end up with a higher risk of lung cancer than their counterparts. The reason, a new study recently published in JAMA Oncology argues, is that current guidelines for lung cancer screenings exclude a large amount of African American smokers.
Current guidelines for lung cancer screening were established in 2013. However, out of the 50,000 former or current heavy smokers who participated in and informed the study, which ultimately concluded that annual CT scans could better reduce the risk of dying from lung cancer than annual chest x-rays, only four percent were African American.
One reason may be because of the different smoking behaviors of African American and white smokers. While African Americans may smoke fewer cigarettes, research shows that they have a higher risk of lung cancer. They’re also less likely to quit smoking and more apt to be diagnosed with lung cancer at a younger age. “Yet, a higher percentage of cancer cases occur in African American smokers ineligible for screening than in white smokers ineligible for screening,” Popular Science reported.
“It emphasizes we have a long way to go to achieve equity in screening eligibility,” study author Melinda Aldrich of Vanderbilt University Medical Center said. “I was quite surprised by how striking that disparity was.”
This newest study looked at data from approximately 50,000 smokers in the Southern Community Cohort Study. They found just under 70 percent of African American smokers who had not been eligible for screening had been diagnosed with lung cancer, compared to 43 of white smokers diagnosed with lung cancer. One of the criteria most African Americans in this instance had failed to meet was the amount smoked.
While the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), the organization responsible for the current guidelines, is currently in the process of evaluating lung cancer screening guidelines, some practitioners are already putting the findings of this study to use in their practice. “I’m on the lookout, even though I can’t officially screen for lung cancer and get reimbursed,” Eric Flenaugh, chief of pulmonary and critical care and interventional pulmonary medicine at Grady Hospital in Atlanta, said. “I have a heightened sense of urgency.”