Rates for British women aged 60 and over rose from 88 per 100,000 in 1975 to 190 per 100,000 in the latest figures from 2008.
Almost 5,700 women over 60 were diagnosed with lung cancer in 1975. This jumped to more than 15,100 in 2008.
And women over 80 had the greatest increase of all, with lung cancer rates more than tripling from 84 per 100,000 in 1975 to 273 cases diagnosed for every 100,000 women in 2008. These rates have consistently risen by an alarming amount. The number of cases rose from around 800 in 1975 to more than 4,700 in 2008.
Since the late 1980s there was some improvement for women aged 60-69, with lung cancer rates levelling out and then falling. But, worryingly, since 2002 these rates have steadily gone back up.
But there is some good news, after large increases since the mid 1970’s, lung cancer rates in women aged 70-79 have now levelled off over the last decade. And lung cancer rates in 40-49 year old women have fallen by a fifth, from 14 per 100,000 in 1975 to 11 per 100,000 in 2008.
Overall the number of women diagnosed with lung cancer has risen from around 7,800 cases in 1975 to more than 17,500 in 2008.
Figures for men show the opposite with around 23,400 over 60s diagnosed with lung cancer in 1975, falling to around 19,400 men in 2008, with rates showing a similar large drop.
Lung cancer is unique in that the reduction in cases is directly linked to a reduction in smoking which causes around 90 per cent of lung cancers. The difference in lung cancer trends for men and women is mirrored by the smoking patterns in previous years for each sex.
Men had the highest smoking rates in the 1940s and 50s and falling from then. Women had rising rates in the 60s and 70s.
Successful anti-smoking measures – such as the tobacco advertising ban and the legislation making public places smokefree – have meant the number of smokers has continued to drop.
Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, said: “These figures highlight how important tobacco control measures are in helping people to stop smoking. With the lung cancer rate rising among women we would like the government to introduce a comprehensive and well funded tobacco control strategy that targets at risk groups and stops young people from beginning an addiction that kills half of all long term smokers.
“Around nine in ten cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking and one in five people still smoke, so it’s vital that work continues to support smokers to quit and protect young people from being recruited into an addiction that kills half of all long term smokers. In particular we want displays in shops covered up so that young people are no longer being exposed to this form of tobacco marketing.”
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