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Tuesday, November 2, 1999 Published at 17:07 GMT


Lung cancer grows among women

The rise is blamed on changing habits in the 1950s and 1960s

Lung cancer is increasing among women and falling among men, according to provisional figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

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  • The figures also show that prostate cancer has for the first time overtaken the colorectal form of the disease as the second largest killer of men - with 63.5 cases per 100,000 men in 1996 compared with 43.5 in 1987.

    Specialists have said the rises in incidence could reflect both better detection of cancers and the increasing number of women smoking - more often from a younger age.

    The news follows a number of studies indicating that women smokers are at an increased risk of the disease compared to their male counterparts.

    Common disease

    [ image:  ]
    The ONS figures showed that about 35 women per 100,000 were diagnosed with lung cancer in 1996.

    When the figures are fully processed, this was expected to show a five per cent increase on 1993 - a rise blamed on large increases in the number of women smoking in the 1950s and 1960s.

    Although 77 men per 100,000 were diagnosed with the disease in 1996, this was expected to show a drop of five per cent on 1993 - although it remained the most common cancer among men.

    However, men suffer the poorer survival rate for the disease.

    Women are most likely to be affected by breast cancer, with 101.4 cases per 100,000.

    Dr Peter Goldblatt, chief medical statistician for the ONS, said: "The continuing rise of the incidence of lung cancer among women is worrying and a cause for concern, especially as this looks set to continue.

    "Also worrying is the fact that rising numbers of young women are continuing to smoke, and this is an issue that needs to be addressed."

    Cancers of the lip and mouth - which are linked to smoking and excessive drinking - were also on the increase.

    Women at risk

    [ image: The number of women smoking is increasing]
    The number of women smoking is increasing
    The figures were published as American researchers presented findings suggesting women may be more susceptible to lung cancer because they have higher levels of an enzyme that can turn cigarette smoke into cancer-causing chemicals.

    Dr Natasha Buckshee, of New York Presbyterian Hospital, took part in the study and said it offered compelling evidence that women have a greater susceptibility to cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco than men.

    Her study found that women smokers have more than double the chance of developing lung cancer.

    Looking at 459 women and 541 men aged over 60 who were long-term smokers, it found that 4.1% of the women developed lung cancer compared to 1.9% of the men.

    Dr David Yankelevitz, a radiologist at Presbyterian Hospital who also worked on the study, said: "It's not good news, especially when you think the smoking incidence in young women is continuing to rise.

    "If you live in Manhattan, just take a walk down any avenue and see the young women smoking. It's pretty shocking."

    The study was presented at a conference of the American College of Chest Physicians in Chicago.

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