By Rachael Rettner
Female smokers are more likely to die from lung cancer now than a few decades ago, a new study says.
In the 1960s, female smokers were 2.7 times more likely to die from lung cancer compared with women who didn't smoke. By the 1980s, women who smoked were 12.6 times more likely to die from lung cancer, and in the 2000s, they were 25.7 times more likely to die from lung cancer, the study found.
The dramatic increase reflects changes in smoking patterns among women that began in the 1960s. (Because lung cancer takes years to develop, changes in smoking patterns would not start to influence deaths until many years later.)
In the '60s, more women started smoking during their teenage years (a trend that men had already embraced during the 1930s). The number of cigarettes smoked per day was highest in men in the 1970s, and highest in women in the 1980s.
The findings confirm the prediction that "women who smoke like men die like men," the researchers write in the Jan. 23 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
The risk of death from lung cancer among male smokers has been level since the 1980s, and is about the same as the risk of death from lung cancer among female smokers today.
The risk of death from chronic obstructive lung disease continues to increase in both sexes.
This increase may be due in part to the introduction of blended tobacco lowering the pH of cigarette smoke, making the smoke easier to inhale deeper into the lungs, said study researcher Dr. Michael Thun, former vice president emeritus of the American Cancer Society.
The good news is that quitting smoking at any age lowers the risk of death from smoking-related diseases, though quitting before the age of 40 is particularly effective at cutting risk, the researchers said. [See Quitting Smoking Lengthens Women's Lives.]
The study included information from more than 2.2 million adults ages 55 and older.