HealthDay News — Although female smokers had a lower lung cancer mortality than male smokers through the 1980s, both sexes now have similar risks of dying from lung cancer and other causes related to the habit, study findings indicate.

The relative risk of death from any cause among a contemporary cohort of smokers was 2.80 (95% CI 2.72- 2.88) for men and 2.76 (95% CI: 2.69-2.84) for women, Michael J. Thun, MD, of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, and colleagues reported in New England Journal of Medicine.

Thun and colleagues compared trends in mortality based on gender and smoking status from 1959 to 1965, 1982 to 1988, and 2000 to 2010. They analyzed data from two historical American Cancer Society cohorts and pooled data from five contemporary cohort studies that included people aged 55 years and older in the United States.

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In the earliest time period, there was a large gender gap in relative risk for lung cancer-related mortality — 12.22 for men vs. 2.73 for women. Over time this difference has become less pronounced with a RR of 23.81 in men vs. 12.65 in women in the 1980s, and evened out to 24.97 vs. 25.66 in the 2000s.

In the most recent cohort, male and female current smokers had similar relative risks of dying of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (25.61 and 22.35, respectively), ischemic heart disease (2.50 and 2.86), any type of stroke and all causes combined. 

Mortality associated with COPD in both groups doubled during the study period, with relative risk increasing from 9.98 to 25.61 in men and 10.35 to 22.35 in women, the researchers found — an increase likely attributable to the design of newer cigarettes, which enable deeper inhalation.

Quitting smoking at any age dramatically reduced death rates.

“More women die of lung cancer than of breast cancer. But there is no ‘race for the cure’ for lung cancer, no brown ribbon, and no group analogous to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation,” Steven A. Schroeder, MD, of the University of California San Francisco wrote in an accompanying editorial.

He called for more efforts to encourage smoking prevention and cessation.


  1. Thun M et al. N Engl J Med 2013; 368: 351-364.
  2. Schroeder S. N Engl J Med 2013;368: 389-390.