Lung cancer rates have soared among women over the past four decades, but are now declining among men, new figures show.
In the last 40 years, rates of the disease among women across the UK have risen by a staggering 78%, Cancer Research UK has warned.
While the proportion of women who are diagnosed with the disease has rocketed, lung cancer rates have fallen by nearly half (47%) among men during the same period, the charity said.
The incidence figures, published today, could be explained by changes in smoking habits between men and women, according to a charity spokesman.
The proportion of men who smoke has been declining since the 1950s but for women this didn’t happen until the 1970s, he said.
Rates of lung cancer among women now stand at 41 women in every 100,000, up from 23 per 100,000 in 1975. For men, the lung cancer rate is now 59 per 100,000, down from 112 per 100,000 in 1975.
The charity said that more must be done to raise awareness of the symptoms of the disease, and efforts must continue to reduce smoking rates.
“We need to improve awareness of the possible signs and symptoms of lung cancer”
“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,” said Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis Sara Hiom.
“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 said lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the UK but is the biggest “cancer killer”.
In 2011 there were 43,500 cases of the disease across the UK. In the same year 35,200 deaths were attributed to lung cancer.
A charity spokesman added that “relatively few” people survive the disease and there are “several hurdles” to be overcome to improve the outlook for patients.
Because of the disease’s link with tobacco − 87% of lung cancer cases are attributable to smoking − there is a perception that the disease is “self-inflicted”, he said.
More must be done to address the attitude that lung cancer is an “unsolvable problem” for research and society, the spokesman said.
“The attitude that a lung cancer diagnosis is a death sentence must change”
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. The attitude that a lung cancer diagnosis is a death sentence must change.”