Lung cancer rates in women have risen by 73 per cent over the past forty years according to new Cancer Research UK figures.
Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “These figures provide a stark reminder that lung cancer remains one of the biggest challenges in cancer research. The disease kills more than twice as many people as the second most common cancer killer – bowel cancer – and this looks set to continue unless we all do more.” While the rate for women has continued to climb, the figures show lung cancer rates have fallen by nearly half (47 per cent) in men over the same period and by 20 per cent for people overall.
About 87 per cent of lung cancers are caused by tobacco, with the remaining 13 per cent of cases not related to tobacco; the figures mirror changes in smoking rates. Rates in men have been falling since the 1950s but for women this didn’t happen until the 1970s. The lung cancer rate in women is now 41 per 100,000, up from 23 in 1975. For men, it is now 59 per 100,000, down from 112 in 1975.
The latest figures show there was about 43,500 cases in the UK in 2011 – 23,800 men and 19,700 women. There were also 35,200 deaths from lung cancer, 19,600 men and 15,600 women. Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the UK but the biggest cancer killer and Cancer Research UK says that advances in treatment have been limited and public awareness of the disease has been low. Relatively few people survive lung cancer. More than two-thirds of patients are diagnosed at a stage when it’s too late for them to be offered treatment that could cure them.
Fewer than 10 per cent of people diagnosed with lung cancer survive for at least five years after diagnosis. Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis, said: “We need to improve awareness of the possible signs and symptoms of lung cancer and urge people – especially those at increased risk – to go to their doctor without delay if they spot any symptoms. “We know that if people go to their GP as soon as they’re aware of symptoms it can make all the difference and save lives. “Look out for feeling more breathless than usual or for much of the time, a cough that has lasted longer than three weeks, an existing cough that has changed or got worse or coughing up blood. If you notice any of these or have worries about unusual changes, make an appointment to see your doctor.”
Cancer Research UK believes that other key priorities include creating a research environment that speeds up the understanding of the disease and leads to better, kinder treatments. Dr Kumar said: “These figures provide a stark reminder that lung cancer remains one of the biggest challenges in cancer research. The disease kills more than twice as many people as the second most common cancer killer – bowel cancer – and this looks set to continue unless we all do more. The attitude that a lung cancer diagnosis is a death sentence must change. “Cancer Research UK wants to make the UK a leader in lung cancer research. We’re determined to build a community of the world’s best researchers to help improve treatments and beat lung cancer sooner.”