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Lung cancer in women over 60 has doubled since 1970s

7 March 2011

Smoking has been blamed for soaring rates of lung cancer among British women aged over 60.

Between 1975 and 2008, the number of British women in their sixties and older diagnosed with lung cancer jumped from almost 5,700 to more than 15,100, new figures show. For women aged over 80 the number of cases rose from 800 in 1975 to more than 4,700 in 2008.

Experts believe the trend is largely due to more women taking up smoking, the chief cause of lung cancer.

But a more detailed breakdown of the pattern reveals some better news. Lung cancer incident rates among women aged 70 to 79 have levelled off over the last decade, and rates among younger women aged 40 to 49 fell by a fifth between 1975 and 2008.

Overall, the number of women diagnosed with lung cancer has risen from around 7,800 cases in 1975 to more than 17,500 in 2008, while the figures for men show a more positive trend during the same period, with the number of cases among those over 60 falling from 23,400 to 19,400.

The different trends among men and women are said to mirror smoking patterns for each sex. Men had the highest smoking rates in the 1940s and 1950s, while more women started to take up the habit in the 1960s and 1970s.

Professor Stephen Spiro, spokesperson for the British Lung Foundation, said:

Lung cancer remains the most common killing cancer in men and women and is related to smoking in 80% of cases. Over the last 30 years, lung cancer rates have dropped in men as they have quit smoking in large numbers. However, this trend is not seen in women as nearly a quarter continue to smoke.

“The rates of lung cancer in women are not falling in the UK and the disease has overtaken breast cancer as the most common cause of cancer deaths in the UK and in many European countries.

“The BLF has recently welcomed the Government’s outcomes strategy for cancer and hopes it will go a long way in improving survival rates for lung cancer through early diagnosis.”

Jean King, director of tobacco control at Cancer Research UK, which released the figures ahead of No Smoking Day on Wednesday, said:

"These figures highlight how important tobacco control measures are in helping people to stop smoking.

"Around nine in 10 cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking and one in five people still smoke, so it's vital that work continues to support smokers to quit and protect young people from being recruited into an addiction that kills half of all long term smokers.


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