Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among men and women alike in the US. Smoking is the primary cause of lung cancer in the US, directly responsible for 87% of all cases.

Recent studies have suggested that women are more susceptible to developing lung cancer than men. Due to these studies, some researchers have started looking for a biological basis for this difference. But not everyone is convinced that such a difference exists, making this a topic of substantial controversy.

And clearing up the controversy isn’t easy given the long interval between exposure to smoking and the incidence of lung cancer. This means lung cancer research must study people over long periods of time, which is challenging.

A new study in the June 2, 2004 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute contradicts recent research, finding that women are not more likely to develop lung cancer than men, given equal smoking exposure.

About the Study

This study included data from 60,296 women and 25,397 men who were part of the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study respectively. To be included in this study, participants had to be of Caucasian descent (non-Caucasians were excluded because research suggests that the risk of lung cancer does vary by race), former or current smokers, aged 40-75 at baseline, and free of previous cancer (other than non-melanoma skin cancer).

The researchers looked at data from 1986 and 2000 and compared the difference in cancer rates between men and women after adjusting for age, number of cigarettes smoked each day, age they began smoking, and time since quitting. They also reviewed six published studies that followed smokers over a given period of time and recorded how many developed lung cancer.

The Findings

During the study period, 955 women and 311 men were diagnosed with lung cancer. There was no significant difference in cancer rates between men and women: The results showed that among 10,000 smokers over a 10-year period 253 women would develop lung cancer compared to 232 men; for former smokers the numbers were also similar, but lower, showing that 81 women compared to 73 men would develop lung cancer.

And upon reviewing the six other published studies, the researchers found that when smoking rates were equal, women did not have a greater risk of lung cancer than men.

How Does This Affect You?

This study suggests that men and women have similar risks of developing lung cancer. The bottom line is that using tobacco products significantly increases your risk of developing lung cancer and other diseases—regardless of your age, ethnicity, and sex.

A 2001 report found that 70% of current smokers wanted to quit. It’s no secret that giving up smoking is tough, but today, more than ever, there is an abundance of resources dedicated to helping smokers kick the habit. Smoking cessation programs are available nationwide through organizations such as the American Lung Association and can easily be accessed via the Internet or a healthcare provider.

And if you are finding it difficult to quit, but still want to reduce your exposure to harmful carcinogens, there may be another alternative. A study published in the same issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Instit ute found that smokers who switch to “reduced exposure” cigarettes (in this study the OMNI cigarette) decrease their exposure to tobacco-associated carcinogens. The study also found, however, that switching to the nicotine patch results in an even greater reduction in this exposure.

So if you are a current smoker, who is not ready to quit or don’t want to quit, you may still be able to lower your risk of lung cancer and other tobacco related diseases by switching to “reduced exposure” cigarettes. But if you are ready to take it a step further, the patch and other nicotine replacement products are an even safer and more effective alternative—especially when combined with a behavior change program.