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Smoking Wednesday, 2 December, 1998, 13:57 GMT
Higher death risk for women smokers
Women smokers tend to get a more deadly form of lung cancer than men
Smoking is more likely to kill women than men, according to the largest ever British study of lung cancer patients.

The Royal College of Physicians Research Unit says a study of 1,600 cancer patients in 46 hospitals in the UK shows that women are twice as likely to develop the most fatal type of lung cancer than males smokers.

The news will give more impetus to drives to cut the increasing number of teenage girls taking up smoking, which accounts for a huge percentage of lung cancer cases.

The researchers found that women are more vulnerable to small cell lung cancer which spreads more rapidly than other forms.

This makes it more difficult to catch in the early stages when it is treatable.

Seven out of 10 of the cases are inoperable.

Men are more likely to develop non-small cell lung cancer. Half of these cases can be operated on.

World War Two

The findings will be presented to the British Thoracic Society, on Wednesday.

Dr Mike Pearson, who led the research and is chairman of the society's public education committee, said part of the reason could be due to the big increase in female smokers since the war.

He said women may not have developed resistance to small cell lung cancer.

"Our research suggests women have less resistance to the most dangerous kinds of lung cancer.

An increasing number of young girls are taking up smoking
"This may be due to changing patterns of smoking behaviour - many women took up the habit a decade after men who smoked heavily during World War Two."

Another reason could be that women tend to inhale differently from men, taking shorter, sharper inhalations.

Doctors believe this could be a risk factor for small cell lung cancer. Women may also smoke different brands of cigarettes.

Dr Pearson called the research findings "frightening" and said: "The message to young women is now very strong indeed."

Enormously worrying

Health minister Tessa Jowell said the study was "enormously worrying", particularly as more young girls appeared to be taking up smoking.

She said: "Ten years ago one in five 15-year-old girls smoked, that figure is now one in three, and as the research very clearly shows those girls will be at disproportionate risk of of these lung cancers."

Ms Jowell said smoking is the single greatest cause of preventable death.

"There is no safe level at which people can smoke or no safe way to smoke. Smoking is always associated with risk," she said.

Ms Jowell said a forthcoming White Paper would set out a framework for banning tobacco advertising and sponsorship.

However, she insisted that sports such as formula one motor racing, which are heavily dependent on tobacco sponsorship, must be given time to find alternative backers.

"Just as these devastating health effects take time to show up, so change in these areas also takes time," she said.

Dr Pearson said he was pleased that the government was taking action, but called for a ban to be imposed as quickly as possible.

BBC Health Correspondent Richard Hannaford reports
The BBC's Kurt Barling reports: A greater number of teenage girls are taking up smoking
Mike Pearson and Tessa Jowell talk about the findings
See also:

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