BETHESDA, Md--Between 1960 and 1990, there has been a greater than 400% increase in deaths from lung cancer in women. "Women now account for about 45% of all new cases of lung cancer, a proportion that was only about 20% to 25% in the 1970s," said James Jett, MD, co-director of the Lung Cancer Program at the University of Pittsburgh.
Dr. Jett, along with other lung cancer experts, participated in a video conference at the National Institutes of Health. The program, supported by a grant from Bristol-Myers Squibb Oncology and satellite-transmitted to 20 viewing sites nationwide, focused on the need for smoking prevention and earlier detection.
According to National Cancer Institute data, lung-cancer-related deaths in women rose 6% in the last five years, while in men during this time period, the death rate dropped by 6%.
"The general population does not realize how many women get lung cancer, or how widespread this disease is among women," said Diane Blum, MSW, executive director of Cancer Care, Inc., a conference co-sponsor. "Younger people feel particularly invulnerable to disease, so health care professionals need to go an extra step to educate young women to the dangers of lung cancer."
Dr. Jett noted that many smokers being treated for lung cancer started smoking at age 12 or 13. "Clearly, this is a tragedy," he stated, emphasizing that education must begin very early in a child's development, with parents and physicians working together to make the message clear: Lung cancer is a lethal disease.
High Death Rates in Minorities
"We must stress that smokers have a 25-fold higher risk of developing lung cancer than nonsmokers," said Edith Perez, MD, director of clinical trials at the Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Fla. "In addition to education, early detection, including minority groups, is paramount for more successful treatment."
American Lung Association data indicate that the lung cancer death rate is 80.8 per 100,000 African-American males, compared with 54.0 per 100,000 white males.
Other panelists noted that approximately 80% of lung cancer cases are not diagnosed until the disease has reached an advanced stage. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 1997, roughly 160,000 people will die of lung cancer, more deaths than from prostate, breast, and colorectal cancers combined.