Deaths from lung cancer in British women under 70 have fallen to their lowest in 30 years, according to new statistics released today.

Experts say it’s because declines in women’s smoking rates translate into reduced death rates in later years. The same pattern was seen earlier in men’s smoking and subsequent falling lung cancer rates.

The news comes as Cancer Research UK, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Quit, ASH and No Smoking Day team up for the first time to spearhead Lung Cancer Awareness Month, which runs throughout January.

Sir Richard Peto of Cancer Research UK, says: “This fall is because more women are giving up smoking. Half of the people who keep on smoking will eventually be killed by their habit but stopping smoking works surprisingly well. Even after many years of smoking, those who stop before they have lung cancer or some other serious disease, avoid most of their risk of being killed by tobacco.”

Dr Lesley Walker, Director of Cancer Information at Cancer Research UK adds: “This is very promising news. It suggests that over the next decade we will see lung cancer in women continue to decline.”

Smoking is the main cause of lung cancer, with nine out of 10 cases of the disease linked to tobacco. Rates of lung cancer in the UK were among the highest in the world. But in the last two decades they have dropped.

This is chiefly the result of people in the UK quitting smoking – in 1970 around 60 per cent of adults smoked – today it has more than halved to 27 per cent.

Clive Bates, Director of ASH says: “The present lung cancer rates reflect the decline in smoking in the 1970s and 1980s. But now smoking rates have stopped falling and we need to re-double efforts to help smokers to quit and young people never to start.”

Steve Crone, Chief Executive of QUIT adds: “We have seen a steady increase in the number of people seeking help to kick the smoking habit. Over 70 per cent of smokers want to break their nicotine addiction and most cite health improvement as a major driving force.”

He adds that QUIT’s new counselling by e-mail service [email protected] will help more smokers to stop.

Chris Dainty, Communications Director of Marie Curie Cancer Care points out that lung cancer is a very difficult cancer to treat and that prevention of the disease is vital.

“Lung Cancer Awareness Month will allow us to heighten knowledge of the disease and surrounding issues” he says.

Doreen McIntyre, Chief Executive of No Smoking Day, says: “This is graphic proof that stopping smoking really can be a life saver – what a great incentive for the millions of smokers who are planning to stop this No Smoking Day.”

Sir Paul Nurse, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK says: “Prevention and health education are especially important in the battle against lung cancer – It’s one of the hardest cancers to cure, but the easiest to prevent. This is really key for a disease where only five per cent of people are still alive five years after diagnosis.”



The latest Cancer Research UK figures are compiled from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and General Registrar’s Office (GRO) data for 2001.

In 1988 (peak) there were nearly 6000 deaths from lung cancer in women under 70 and 6300 in women over 70. In 2001 there were 4550 deaths from lung cancer in women under 70 and 8500 deaths in the over 70s. The high figure for the over 70s is a result of the women’s smoking boom after World War II. The decline for the under-70s indicates that there will be an overall fall in women’s deaths from lung cancer as the population ages.

The symptoms of lung cancer can be:

  • Having a cough most of the time
  • Change in a cough you have had for a long time
  • Being short of breath
  • Coughing up phlegm (sputum) with signs of blood in it
  • An ache or pain when breathing or coughing
  • Loss of appetite / Losing weight

Men’s smoking soared between the two world wars – this translated to a peak in lung cancer in the late 1960s. However women’s smoking rates climbed later, which translated to a peak in lung cancer increase in the 1980s.

Today only 3 in 10 men smoke – compared with 8 in 10 at the end of World War II.

Cancer Research UK, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), Quit and No Smoking Day teamed up to support Lung Cancer Awareness Month throughout January 2003.

Cancer Research UK is the world’s largest independent cancer research organisation. It has a dedicated team of 3,000 scientists and an annual scientific spend of more than £176 million – raised almost entirely through public donations. ASH is a campaigning public health charity working for a broad societal response to tobacco aimed at achieving a sharp reduction and eventual elimination of the health problems caused by tobacco. QUIT is the UK charity that helps smokers to quit. Quitline is the longest established smoking helpline in the world and has helped over 2 million smokers quit smoking. Marie Curie Cancer Care is dedicated to the care of people affected by cancer and the enhancement of their quality of life through its caring services, research and education. No Smoking Day aims to help smokers who want to stop. Its ‘Sick Of Smoking’ campaign focuses on No Smoking Day – 12 March 2003.