Lung cancer epidemic seen in women

68,510 will die this year in U.S.

smoking blamed

April 14, 2004|By Delthia Ricks | Delthia Ricks,NEWSDAY

An epidemic of lung cancer among American women has been quietly growing for decades, and an end to the upsurge appears nowhere in sight, doctors will report today.

For women, deaths due to lung cancer now outstrip those caused by breast cancer and all gynecologic cancers combined, the researchers will report today. The team of medical scientists who assessed the scope of lung cancer in women say mortality has continued to climb in women even as smoking and deaths from the disease have declined in men.

Deaths caused by smoking rose 600 percent in U.S. women from 1930 to 1997, and continues to rise, the team of scientists said. Drawn to cigarettes largely as a method of weight control, young women are as attracted to the habit as their counterparts were in the era of Franklin D. Roosevelt, researchers said yesterday.

"This is a true epidemic," said Dr. Jyoti Patel, an instructor in hematology and oncology at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. "The numbers are far beyond what we would have imagined 30 years ago. In fact, the numbers are in excess of what we would have predicted, and they continue to increase."

The American Cancer Society estimates that 68,510 women will die of lung cancer this year compared with 40,110 who will die of breast cancer. Another 16,090 will die of ovarian cancer and 7,090 of uterine cancer.

"People need to realize that lung cancer is a women's disease," added Patel, lead author of the study appearing in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

"When you talk to most women, they don't seem to realize that they have a real susceptibility to lung cancer."

Dr. Mark Kris, chief of thoracic oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, said not only have smoking-incidence and lung-cancer deaths risen in women for seven decades, they have continued to do so because the social pressures that drive smoking have not changed.

"The core message of the paper is the number of young women who start smoking and how that number has grown astronomically, especially in the last decade or so.

"The face of lung cancer has changed," Kris added. "It used to occur mostly among people who were current smokers. The average person now getting cancer stopped smoking decades ago." The risk for the disease never declines to zero, Kris said. Genetic damage remains in the lungs decades after smoking ceases.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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