A Shift in Women's Cancer Burden

Lung cancer affected women in developed countries more than breast cancer

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) More people have been surviving cancer. And as more patients win the fight, one type of cancer has taken the lead in threatening the most women.

For World Cancer Day Feb. 4, the American Cancer Society (ACS) released a new report. This report found that, in developed countries like the US, lung cancer took more women's lives than any other type of cancer.

However, cancer death rates have dropped in the last 20 years, likely due to better detection and new therapies, the authors of this report found. These researchers called for a coordinated effort among all sectors of society to help decrease cancer deaths.

"A substantial proportion of the worldwide burden of cancer can be prevented through the application of existing cancer control knowledge, including tobacco control, vaccination (for liver and cervical cancers), early detection, and the promotion of physical activity and healthy dietary patterns," the ACS researchers wrote.

Rebecca L. Siegel, MPH, of the Surveillance and Health Services Research at the American Cancer Society, led the ACS research team.

Breast cancer was previously the most deadly type of cancer among women, Siegel and team noted. New advances in diagnosis and treatment, however, may be changing these patterns. Lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers are the “big four” for people in the US, Siegel and team noted.

Some cancers, such as lung cancer, have well-known risk factors. Tobacco use has long been recognized as a risk factor for lung and oral cancers.

The increase in lung cancer cases for women is probably because women started smoking in large numbers much later than men, Siegel and team said. The delayed tobacco epidemic among women may now be starting to affect the development of cancers in women.

Siegel and team noted that death rates for uterine and breast cancer in women, however, have declined.

Overall, according to the ACS report, cancer death rates have declined over the last 20 years. In the US, the risk of dying of cancer decreased by 22 percent from 1991 and 2011.

Patient education about cancer-related habits like smoking may have contributed to these lower rates, Siegel and team noted. Also, early cancer detection promotes early treatment, which can also decrease the death rate. Along with improving cancer treatments, these factors may have contributed to the overall decline in cancer deaths.

“Further reductions in cancer death rates can be accelerated by applying existing cancer control knowledge across all segments of the population, with an emphasis on those in the lowest socioeconomic bracket and other disadvantaged populations,” Siegel and colleagues wrote.

This research was published Feb. 4 in CA: Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.


Review Date: 
February 5, 2015
Last Updated:
February 6, 2015