Women and the Contemporary Lung Cancer Epidemic


An article by Dr. Peter Bach and Dr. Mark Kris of Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and Dr. Jyoti Patel of Northwestern University report in the Journal of the American Medical Association that lung cancer has become “a contemporary epidemic” in women. Most cases, up to 80 percent in women, are from smoking. Last year, 80,100 new cases were diagnosed in American women, and 68,800 women died from the disease.

“Lung cancer is among the deadliest cancers because it often starts spreading long before being detected. Among cases diagnosed from 1992 to 1999, only 12 percent overall survived five years, 10 percent of the men and 14 percent of the women.

“The disease kills more women in the United States than any other cancer, as many as breast cancer and all gynecological cancers combined. Lung cancer bypassed breast cancer in 1987 as the leading cause of cancer deaths in women. From 1930 to 1997, as more and more women took up smoking, their death rate from lung cancer rose 600 percent.

“Although smoking has been known for decades to cause most lung cancers, a quarter of adult women in the United States smoke. In 2000, 30 percent of high school girls surveyed said they had smoked in the last 30 days. Since the 1950, smoking rates for American men have decreased nearly 50 percent. For women, the decrease is 25 percent…

“Multiple studies have found higher rates of genetic damage caused by tobacco in lung tumors in female than in male smokers, even though the women had, overall, smoked less. Women also appear less able to repair genetic damage.

“Compared with male smokers, women who smoke also have a more active version of a gene that makes chemicals in cigarette smoke more harmful to cells. Estrogen may make that gene more active...”

[This material was extracted from a report written by Denise Grady in the New York Times, published in the Seattle Post Intelligencer April 14, 2004.]


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