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The risk of women smokers dying of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has risen significantly in recent years, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine.[1]

Compared with women smokers of 20 or 40 years ago, the risk of death is now much greater, which reflects a change in smoking behavior. According to researchers, led by Michael Thun, MD, recently retired vice president emeritus of the American Cancer Society, women are smoking at rates similar to men, more so than in previous generations.

Dr. Thun and his colleagues measured 50-year trends in mortality related to smoking across three time periods (1959-1965, 1982-1988, and 2000-2010) by comparing 5 large studies with 2 historical American Cancer Society cohorts. The study included more than 2.2 million adults aged 55 years and older. The findings showed that:

  • Women who smoked in the 1960s had a 2.7-times higher rate of dying of lung cancer than never-smokers.
  • Women who smoked between 2000 and 2010 had a 25.7-times higher rate of dying of the disease than neversmokers.
  • The risk of dying from COPD was 4 times higher among women smokers than never-smokers in the 1960s, whereas the risk of women smokers dying of COPD between 2000 and 2010 increased to 22.5 times higher than neversmokers.
  • Men and women in the contemporary cohort groups (2000–2010) had nearly identical higher relative risks (compared with never-smokers) for lung cancer, COPD, heart disease, and stroke.

The study also confirmed that quitting smoking at any age dramatically lowers mortality from all major diseases and that quitting is more effective than just cutting down on smoking.

Researchers found that smokers who quit by age 40 years cut their excess risk of smoking-related mortality from both lung cancer and COPD.

Dr. Thun adds that cigarette brands marketed as “light” and “mild” fail to prevent a large increase in mortality risk for women. In fact, these cigarettes may actually have increased deaths from COPD in male smokers, because the diluted smoke is inhaled more deeply into the lungs to maintain the absorption of nicotine to which the smokers are accustomed.

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