Black Smokers Less Likely to be Screened for Lung Cancer

How racial differences influence smoking patterns

The differences in smoking habits between black and white folks in this country may lead to lower lung cancer screening rates for blacks, according to new research.

For this study, researchers reviewed federal government data from 1965 to 2012 and found that blacks are less likely than whites to start smoking in their late teens, but also less likely to quit as they get older. The study also found black smokers use fewer cigarettes a day than white smokers. These racial differences result in contradictory, yet important differences in lifetime cigarette exposure, said the Yale School of Public Health team performing the study.

Though blacks tend to continue smoking into their later years, the fact that they tend to smoke fewer cigarettes means they have fewer average “pack-years,” calculated by multiplying the number of packs smoked per day by years of smoking, the researchers said.

Pack-years is one way to determine eligibility for lung cancer screening. While black smokers may have fewer pack-years, they may have a longer exposure to smoking. That means it’s possible fewer at-risk black smokers would be targeted for lung cancer screening, even though they face a similar, possibly higher risk of death from tobacco-related diseases, researchers said.

“Racial differences in smoking initiation, cessation, and intensity give rise to substantial differences in risk for tobacco-related diseases,” said the study’s author Theodore Holford, a professor of public health at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut.

Though more research is needed, “this study shows that commonly used measures may give rise to disparities in access to lifesaving interventions,” Holford said.

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