For smokers, lung cancer risk not greater for women

For smokers, lung cancer risk not greater for women

A paper published in The Lancet Oncology has concluded that women smokers are not at a greater risk of developing lung cancer than male smokers. However, among those who have never smoked, women appear to be more likely to develop the disease than men.

In the United States, the medical and health community mostly agrees that cigarette smoking is responsible for about 90% of lung cancers. One point of contention among researchers and scientists, however, deals with how cigarette smoking affects men and women differently. Existing research has not been able to provide conclusive evidence that smoking makes women more or less susceptible to lung cancer than men.

Further investigating this issue, Neal Freedman (National Cancer Institute, Rockville, MD, USA) and colleagues studied a data set of almost 500,000 American men and women that contained information on smoking habits, diet, physical exercise, and incidence of lung cancer. Regarding smoking, the 279,214 men and 184,623 women (all 50 to 71 years old) were asked if they currently smoked, if they had ever smoked, and how many cigarettes per day they had smoked.

Key results from the study include:

  • Lung cancer incidence rates were 1.47% for men and 1.21% for women.
  • Compared to men who never smoked, women who had never smoked were still 1.3 times more likely to develop lung cancer.
  • The correlation between smoking and cancer risk was strong in both men and women.
  • Smoking two packs of cigarettes per day makes you 50 times more likely to develop lung cancer than never smoking at all.
  • Compared to male smokers, women smokers were only slightly less likely (0.9 times) to develop lung cancer.
Lung cancer comes in several different forms. Rates of small cell, squamous, and undifferentiated tumors were about the same for both men and women who had never smoked. Adenocarcinomas, however, were more common in women than in men. Male smokers were twice as likely as female smokers to develop squamous tumours and about as likely as female smokers to develop the other tumors.

"Our findings suggest that women are not more susceptible than men to the carcinogenic effects of cigarette smoking in the lung. Vigorous efforts should continue to be directed at eliminating smoking in both sexes," conclude the authors.

Cigarette smoking and subsequent risk of lung cancer in men and women: analysis of a prospective cohort study

Neal D Freedman, Michael F Leitzmann, Albert R Hollenbeck, Arthur Schatzkin, Christian C Abnet

The Lancet Oncology .


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