Men and women at equal lung cancer risk from smoking

The most detailed analysis to date of lung cancer risk among women does not support the theory that women are more susceptible than men to developing lung cancer after comparable amounts of smoking. A review of several large prospective studies, the first to examine this issue in multiple large prospective studies, concludes research on lung cancer prevention should focus on interventions that will have similar benefits for all, rather than focus on gender differences in susceptibility.

The American Cancer Society estimates tobacco will cause 139,600 –or 87 percent—of the 160,440 lung cancer deaths expected in 2004. Historically, men have been more likely to smoke, and therefore more likely to die of lung cancer. Lung cancer rates began to rise sharply for women in the mid-1960s among those who began smoking after World War II, surpassing breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer death among women in the late 1980s.

There has been substantial controversy over the possibility that women are more susceptible to develop lung cancer after comparable exposure, leading to studies to look for possible biological mechanisms to support the theory. The new report used two large existing prospective studies to calculate lung cancer incidence rates for women and men, adjusting for cigarettes smoked per day and years of smoking. The authors also reviewed data from six other prospective analyses, and conclude not one of the studies supports an excess risk of lung cancer for women.

“It’s unclear why some studies have pointed to an increased risk for women,” said Michael R. Thun, MD, chief epidemiologist for the American Cancer Society and co-author of the new review. “But this unprecedented review should help us focus on broad strategies that will be relevant to preventing tobacco use for everyone.”

The American Cancer Society is dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by saving lives, diminishing suffering and preventing cancer through research, education, advocacy and service. Founded in 1913 and with national headquarters in Atlanta, the Society has 14 regional Divisions and local offices in 3,400 communities, involving millions of volunteers across the United States. For more information anytime, call toll free 1-800-ACS-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.

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