Lung cancer deaths surgingamong young female smokers
Tobacco advertising directed at girls blamed for alarming rise of disease that's now killing women smokers in their 30sBy Sarah-Kate Templeton, Health EditorGlascow Sunday Hearld (Scotland)November 23, 2003Women in their mid-30s are now developing fatal lung cancer as a result of starting to smoke in their early teens, according to reports from doctors across the UK.
Lung cancer is perceived as an illness of the middle-aged or elderly but doctors throughout the country are seeing increasing numbers of women in their 30s or early 40s dying from the disease.Dr Jesme Baird, director of patient care at the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, said: "A very worrying trend appears to be emerging. What we're hearing from lung cancer consultants across the UK is that the incidence of lung cancer among younger women has been on the increase over the last couple of years. This is a devastating disease and the impact that this must be having on these women, the majority of whom will have young families, is unimaginable."Professor Elaine Rankin, who holds a Cancer Research UK chair of cancer medicine and is a consultant at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee, is now treating women in their mid-30s. She says the type of lung cancer killing these women is slightly different from the illness that targets older men."We see women from their mid-30s onwards. This is an increasing phenomenon. These women have a slightly different disease. Older men with lung cancer often have a history of bronchitis and their cancer comes to light due to repeated chest infections."In the younger women, we are seeing the disease behaving slightly differently. It tends to be more advanced when it comes to light. That, we think, has something to do with the type of cigarettes women are smoking. More women smoke low-tar cigarettes. Women tend to be inhaling deeply smaller particles which travel further in the lungs, towards the ribs, and that is where they start causing damage."More women die from lung cancer than breast cancer and ovarian cancer combined. Lung cancer survival rates are extremely low. Only 6.4% of women survive five years compared to 77.5% of women with breast cancer.Recent research showed that a woman who smokes the same number of cigarettes as a man is twice as likely to develop lung cancer. The study from Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York suggested that the key to the double tumour risk lies in men having a greater ability to detoxify toxins and the presence of the female hormone oestrogen which is known to help cancers.As the most recent national statistics on lung cancer are only available from 1999, the increase in younger women dying from the disease remains anecdotal, but Professor Ray Donnelly, founder and president of the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, is not surprised by what the charity is hearing from doctors. He says this is due to women starting smoking at the age of 10 or 11."This is a logical consequence of girls starting to smoke at a much younger age. If we have girls starting to smoke at the age of 10 to 12 it is not surprising that they develop lung cancer by their 40s."I have seen patients in their 30s with lung cancer. My guess is this is happening because the women coming through started smoking at 10, 11 or 12."In the 50s and 60s women would start smoking in their 20s or 30s and lung cancer would come through in their 50s or 60s."Professor Stephen Spiro, of the British Lung Foundation and University College London Hospitals NHS Trust, has treated a 33-year-old woman with lung cancer, and regularly sees women dying from the disease in their 40s. He believes advertising targeted at adolescent girls has played a part.A recent study by the Centre for Tobacco Control Research at Strathclyde University, and the Department of Community Health Sciences at Edinburgh University, said that youth style magazines contribute to high levels of smoking among young women. It found that the casual promotion of smoking in fashion shoots and by personalities carries most influence.Philip Morris marketed Virginia Slims at women with slogans such as "You've come a long way, Baby", and "It's a woman's thing". Critics also claim the brand hinted at the fact that smoking helps women to lose weight."We are now seeing cancers more frequently in younger women than we used to and this is going to continue until they reduce their smoking."The problem is that the advertising is directed at girls, with brands such as Virginia Slims. We have got to target teenagers who smoke. They are the next generation of cancer victims in their 30s," Spiro said.Dr Tariq Sethi, a British Lung Foundation chair and con sultant at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, added: "There was very aggressive marketing by cigarette manufacturers targeting women."Smoking was seen by women as something their favourite celebrities did and as a way of keeping their weight down. There is no doubt that smoking does keep your weight down. Teenage girls also think smoking gives them an air of sophistication."We are now seeing much younger women coming through with lung cancer for reasons we don't understand. Lung cancer was seen as an old person's disease but now it is not uncommon for us to see women in their early 40s."Lung cancer attracts a fraction of the funding awarded to other forms of the disease. Campaigners believe this is because sufferers, mostly smokers, are perceived to be responsible for their own illness. Lung cancer causes 22% of all cancer deaths yet attracts 3% of total research cash while breast cancer accounts for 8% of cancer deaths but attracts 18% of research money.©2003 Newsquest (Sunday Herald) Limited. all rights reserved
Just three months after this photo Noni's six month old son was motherless
If You Could Spend a Day With Me
As a radiation oncologist, I treat patients with lung cancer every day. One of them is a 31 year old woman now receiving palliative (temporizing) treatment for her widespread small cell lung cancer compressing blood vessels in her chest and making her very short of breath. She has preschool children at home. She did not smoke very much, but had started young. When I look at her in the waiting room, she appears like a teenager herself.
It seems that a lesser amount of smoking is necessary for women than men before they develop lung cancer. A few years ago, lung cancer became the most common cause of cancer death in women in the United States, well ahead of breast cancer. Such is a price women are paying for the Virginia Slims campaign. The cigarettes indeed make those women quite slim.
Maria Werner-Wasik, M.D.
Assistant Professor, Thomas Jefferson Medical College