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Health correspondent Samantha Poling
"Lung cancer has been the biggest killer of Scottish women for the last eight years"
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Professor Gordon McVie, Cancer Research Campaign
"More attention needs to be paid to anti-smoking policies"
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Monday, 25 September, 2000, 18:04 GMT 19:04 UK
Lung cancer tops women death table
Woman lighting up
Nearly a third of women are regular smokers
The Scottish Executive has defended its action against smoking after it emerged that lung cancer is now killing more women in the UK than breast cancer.

Figures from the Cancer Research Campaign shows there has been a 5% fall in deaths from breast cancer over the past 20 years across the UK, but a 36% increase in deaths from lung cancer.

The increase is being blamed on an increase in the number of women smoking.

Lung cancer has been the biggest killer of women in Scotland for the past eight years and it now appears that that statistic is being mirrored in the whole of the UK.

Lung cancer is now killing more women and that is an absolute disaster

Professor Gordon McVie
Campaigners are warning that with the number of young girls taking up smoking increasing, the figures are likely to get worse.

Statistics show that in Scotland, England and Wales, 12,765 women died of lung cancer in 1999, compared with 12,677 from breast cancer.

In 1979 more than 13,235 women died from breast cancer and 8,916 died from lung cancer.

Health debate

A Scottish Executive spokesman said: "During the public health debate last week, Susan Deacon [health minister] said health policies had succeeded in reducing cancer by 15%."

In terms of smoking, Ms Deacon had committed 26m towards a health improvement fund, he added.

Cancer Research Campaign director general, Professor Gordon McVie, said the rise in lung cancer was a disaster, but was a "triumph for the tobacco companies for marketing and targeting their advertisement campaigns at young girls".

Hebs poster
A government anti-smoking poster
"Lung cancer could almost be an invisible disease for all the public attention paid to it. Cigarettes are potentially death in a packet," he said.

"More young girls than boys are taking up the habit and older women are not as successful as men in packing it in once they are hooked.

"British women are much more breast aware these days, and they rightly demand best practice.

"But breast cancer is still the disease women fear the most."

Diagnostic improvement

The decline in the number of women dying of breast cancer is seen as a measure of success of the breast screening programme and improvements in diagnosis and treatment.

But that achievement has been eclipsed by the increase in lung cancer deaths.

According to the Cancer Research Campaign, nine out of 10 cases of lung cancer in women are due to smoking.

Although historically women did not take up cigarettes in the same numbers as men did, that seems to be changing with 36% of Scottish women smoking compared with 34% of Scottish men.

Martin Raymond, of the Health Education Board for Scotland, said: "I think the message is getting through. Every man, woman and child in Scotland knows that smoking is bad for your health, but we need to focus on helping people give up."

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See also:

21 Sep 00 | Scotland
4bn health spending plan
13 Jul 00 | NHS Performance 2000
Cancer rates reveal regional divide
11 Sep 00 | Health
Smoking addiction 'sets in early'
22 Aug 00 | Health
'More women suffer lung disease'
17 Aug 00 | Scotland
Scots' mixed health report
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