Blog: Decoding the Research

Increased risk of death from lung cancer among women

Published: January 28th, 2013

The gender gap is weakening, and that isn’t always good news. A new report in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that women have an increased risk of death from lung cancer – now nearly identical to the risk faced by men.

The study assessed groups of patients from the 1960s, 1980s, and 2000s, comparing risk according to sex and smoking status. The study represents a 50-year perspective on smoking-related mortality in the US, including more than 2.2 million adults 55 years and older.

Here are some key findings:

  • The risk of death from smoking continues to rise among female smokers. While men began smoking cigarettes in the early 1900s, women typically did not smoke until after World War II.  The risk of death from lung cancer among male smokers plateaued in the 1980s, but women have now caught up, making the risks of dying from lung cancer among smokers nearly the same among men and women.
  • The risk of death from all causes combined is three times higher among smokers than never smokers. This one is simple – smoking is bad for you!
  • Quitting smoking at any time dramatically lowers mortality from all major smoking-related diseases. It’s never too late to quit. Find help at http://www.smokefree.gov/.

Another study published in the same issue also looked at risk of death among smokers. They found that smokers lose at least one decade (that’s 10 YEARS!) of life expectancy, compared to those who have never smoked. Quitting smoking before the age of 40 can reduce risk of death from continued smoking by 90%.

Not every case of lung cancer is caused by smoking, one of five lung cancer patients have never smoked. But smoking will play a factor in nearly 180,000 diagnoses and 128,000 deaths from lung cancer this year alone.