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Experts predict 20 per cent drop in lung cancer rate

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by Cancer Research UK | News

17 February 2009

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Cancer Reserach UK experts are predicting that lung cancer rates will drop by nearly a fifth over the next 20 years, according to new figures released today (Tuesday).

Successful anti-smoking measures – such as the tobacco advertising ban and the legislation making public places smokefree – have meant the number of smokers has continued to drop.

But, although lung cancer rates will continue to fall – from around 50 people per 100,000 to around 40 by 2024 – the overall number of people diagnosed with the disease looks set to increase.

People living longer, combined with the delay between smoking and the onset of lung cancer means cases in the UK are expected to rise from around 38,500 to more than 41,600 by 2024.

Smoking causes around 90 per cent of lung cancers so as smoking rates have fallen so has the rate of lung cancer. The difference in lung cancer trends for men and women is dramatically mirrored by the smoking patterns for each sex.

More men than women have been diagnosed with lung cancer since records began. This is because more men have smoked. By 2024 women’s lung cancer rate will drop, reflecting the female smoking rate falling by half between the mid-70s and today. But, the number of women diagnosed in the UK each year is expected to increase from around 15,500 today to more than 18,000 by 2024.

Men’s lung cancer rates were highest in the early 1970s with more than 150 men in every 100,000 diagnosed with lung cancer. This reflected the peak in smoking rates in the 1940s and 50s. Even though the male lung cancer rate is set to drop by more than a quarter between now and 2024 the number of cases diagnosed in the future will remain similar to those diagnosed today – around 22,000.

Professor Max Parkin, co-author of the report, said: “These predictions are based on what we know to date about the current figures and trends for lung cancer. We can see that lung cancer rates should continue to drop but the number of cases will increase.

“This increase will mostly be in women which reflects the peak rates of smoking among women back in the 1970s. Lung cancer is unique in that we can track the reduction in cases with a reduction in the number of people exposed to a specific product – cigarette smoke. As fewer people smoke we should see a lower rate of the disease.”

Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, said: “These figures highlight just how effective tobacco control measures can be and how important it is for work to continue in this area. We know that nine in ten cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking but that one in five people still smoke, so it’s vital we all work to protect future generations from this scourge.

“We want to see tobacco products put out of sight and out of mind in the upcoming tobacco control legislation. We would like a commitment from the government to introduce a comprehensive and well funded tobacco control strategy – one that stops young people from beginning an addiction that kills half of all long term smokers, and fully supports smokers to quit.”


For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out of hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264059.