Women vs. Men: Female Smokers Now Face Increased Lung- Cancer Mortality Risk

by UCSF Department of Radiology Team on March 25, 2013

When it comes to men versus women, women are now in the lead… But this isn’t a race that either gender wants to win. For the first time, women who smoke are more likely to die of lung cancer than male smokers. While the prevalence of smoking has decreased in the United States over the past five decades, the death toll still remains a significantly high figure.

Only fifty years ago, the risk of mortality from lung cancer among male smokers was five times higher than the risk for female smokers. By this century, that number had evened out, or as University of California, San Francisco’s Dr. Steven A. Schroeder wrote, “Women who smoke like men, die like men who smoke.” In 2010, the risk of death by lung cancer for both men and women was 25 times greater than for nonsmokers.

Today, however, women are now more likely to die of the disease. As The New England Journal of Medicine states, female smokers are at a 17.8 times greater risk of dying of lung cancer than female nonsmokers, while men who smoke are 14.6 times more likely to die of lung cancer than men who do not smoke.  Notably, female smokers face a lung-cancer death risk that is 50 percent higher than reported for the same demographic in the 1980s.

Additionally, men and women who continue to smoke die on average over 10 years sooner than non-smokers. For people aged 35 to 69 years old, nearly 200,000 deaths annually are reported in the US. 25 percent of these deaths would be avoided if this age group had the same mortality risk as nonsmokers. Amongst males aged 55 to 74 and females 60 to 74 that number increases. In this age group, more than two-thirds of all deaths among current smokers are smoking related.

The easiest and safest way to improve your outcome is to quit smoking and those who do quit reap benefits in the form of improved health and extended life. For long term smokers or current smokers, it’s important to actively look for signs of lung cancer. Lung cancer screening programs, like the one at UCSF, can detect lung cancer early when the disease is potentially more treatable or curable. In fact, screening with low-dose CT scans reduced deaths from lung cancer by 20 percent in the National Lung Screening Trial.

If you (or a loved one) were or are a long term smoker, this type of early cancer screening could be the right choice for you. Learn more about it by clicking here.

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