Asian people with EGFR lung cancer.

Asian people with EGFR lung cancer.

The Surprising Link Between EGFR-Mutated Lung Cancer and Nonsmoking Asian Women

Lung Cancer in Women Lung Cancer Screening

It’s no secret that smoking cigarettes increases the risk of lung cancer. However, according to Dr. Julia Rotow, a thoracic medical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, lung cancer can also affect unexpected individuals. Young patients, especially women without a history of tobacco use, fall into this category. Yet, there is one crucial aspect related to these cases – EGFR mutations.

The Mystery of EGFR-Mutated Lung Cancer

EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) is a protein found in regular cells that aids in their growth. When an EGFR mutation occurs, it causes cells to multiply rapidly, leading to cancerous tumors. As Dr. Rotow states, “In lung cancer cells, EGFR can be made abnormally active by having a mutation which causes it to turn on when it should not.”

EGFR mutations come in various types, each influencing the specific type of cancer that develops. When young people or nonsmokers are diagnosed with lung cancer, the chances of having this mutation are remarkably high. More than 50% of these patients have an EGFR driver mutation, making targeted therapy feasible.

EGFR-Mutated Lung Cancer Among Asian Women

Research reveals an intriguing connection between EGFR-mutated lung cancer and nonsmoking Asian women, with Chinese descent showing a higher risk. Shockingly, up to 8 out of 10 Asian women diagnosed with lung cancer had never smoked before. Furthermore, Asian American women who have never smoked are almost twice as likely to develop lung cancer than other ethnic groups. It has become the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in this population.

This link was unraveled through a lung cancer screening study presented at the 2023 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting. The study involved over 200 nonsmoking Asian women under 40 with little to no history of smoking, who received chest scans annually. The results showed that nearly 2% of these young women had EGFR-mutated lung cancer. Fortunately, their early diagnosis allowed them to receive adjuvant EGFR-targeted therapy, which reduces the risk of cancer recurrence.

The Importance of EGFR-Mutated Lung Cancer Screening

Current lung cancer screening guidelines focus on people between the ages of 50 to 80 with a significant smoking history. However, these guidelines exclude many individuals who may be at a high risk, particularly those of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Additionally, the low turnout for lung cancer screening remains a challenge. Only around 3 in 10 people opt for the screening, missing out on opportunities to detect early-stage lung cancers.

Dr. Rotow emphasizes that this low turnout is a missed opportunity, particularly for nonsmoking Asian women who are at a higher risk for EGFR-mutated lung cancer. Increasing the screening rate could lead to the earlier detection of these cancers, allowing for more effective treatment and improved outcomes. Therefore, there is a need to expand lung cancer screening strategies beyond the traditional high-risk patient population.

In conclusion, EGFR-mutated lung cancer presents a surprising connection to nonsmoking Asian women, highlighting the importance of expanding lung cancer screening guidelines. Detecting this specific mutation earlier opens the door to targeted therapies that can significantly improve treatment outcomes. By acknowledging the unique risks faced by different populations, we can ensure that more lives are saved through early detection and personalized treatment approaches.