Tobacco study: Women risk most deadly lung cancer

Female smokers are twice as likely as men to develop inoperable form of the disease
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WOMEN SMOKERS are more likely than men to develop the most serious form of lung cancer, possibly because of the way they smoke cigarettes, according to new research.

The study by the British Thoracic Society (BTS) - the largest British investigation into lung cancer - found that nearly twice as many women as men under the age of 65 are diagnosed with small cell lung cancer, the most dangerous form of the disease.

Seven out of ten of these cases could not be helped by surgery and more than half will be dead within six months of their diagnosis.

The findings reinforced calls by the BTS, the UK's official body of respiratory specialists, for the Government to target teenage girls in its imminent White Paper on tobacco.

The study found that men were more likely to have non-small cell lung cancer, which is less damaging to the lung, and nearly half could be considered operable.

Dr Mike Pearson, chairman of the BTS Public Education Committee, said there were several reasons why women might be more susceptible to small cell lung cancer.

"Our research suggestswomen have less resistance to the most dangerous kinds of lung cancer," he said. "This may be due to changing patterns of smoking behaviour - many women took up the habit a decade after men, who smoked heavily during the Second World War.

"Women may also smoke in a different way to men, for example taking shorter, sharper inhalations, which could have an effect on the kind and severity of cancer that they develop."

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) claimed that the higher levels of small cell lung cancer among female smokers could be explained by their tendency to take "sharper inhalations" because they smoke "lighter" cigarettes.

"There are probably several factors at work here, but a major suspect is the greater use of `light' cigarettes by women," said Clive Bates, director of ASH. "People adjust their smoking to get a satisfying dose of nicotine, and `low-tar' smokers draw smoke more deeply into the lungs to get the nicotine they need."

Dr Pearson said: "Smoking among teenage girls is on the increase. It is vitally important that young women know the greater risks they are running by smoking. We must prevent them becoming the lung cancer victims of the future."

The Health minister, Tessa Jowell, said yesterday that the Government wanted to tackle the increasing rate of smoking among teenage girls. "Ten years ago, one in five 15-year-old girls smoked. That figure is now one in three," she said. "Smoking is the single greatest cause of preventable death and there is no safe level at which people can smoke."

Dr Pearson urged the Government to act more quickly to ban tobacco advertising and sponsorship amid signs it could take years for the ban to be implemented. "If you stop smoking, you halve your risk in five years. Waiting seven years, in our view, is longer than is necessary," he said. "It's vital young women know the greater risks they're running by smoking."