Once thought of as a disease that mainly affected men, lung cancer rates in women have been rising over the last century as more and more women have become smokers. In fact, lung cancer is now the leading cause of cancer death in American women. Although lung cancer incidence is greater in men than in women because of differences in patterns of smoking habits, several studies in the 1990s suggested that women may actually be more susceptible to lung cancer than men, so researchers started to search for biological rationales for this susceptibility. Other studies, however, have not found any difference in lung cancer risk.
To clear up the controversy, Diane Feskanich, Sc.D., of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and colleagues analyzed prospective information on 60,296 women from the Nurses' Health Study and 25,397 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. After controlling for age, number of cigarettes smoked each day, age a person began smoking, and time since quitting, the researchers found no difference between men and women in overall lung cancer susceptibility.
The researchers also reviewed six published prospective cohort studies that had examined the issue. When smoking rates were equal, none of the studies showed that women had a higher risk of lung cancer than men. However, the authors note that these analyses and reviews of other studies leave open the possibility that the risk of some particular subtype of lung cancer may be higher in women than in men, though overall risk is not different.
"[I]n the context of what is now a substantial body of prospective evidence, it becomes very difficult indee
Contact: Sarah L. Zielinski
Journal of the National Cancer Institute