Lung cancer in women

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women in the UK. It kills over 4,000 more women than breast cancer every year.

Watch a video showing how smoking ruins your looks

In 2011, about 19,700 women were diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK, making it the second most common cancer diagnosed in women after breast cancer.

The number of men being diagnosed with lung cancer is going down, but the rate among women is going up. One of the reasons is that the number of men who smoke has declined since the 1950s, whereas this has not been the case for women. However, the number of female smokers over the last 60 years is only part of the story.

Women are more addicted to smoking

Women tend to find it harder to give up smoking than men. They have a higher rate of relapse and are much less likely to succeed using nicotine replacement products, such as gum. 

Scientists think this is because women are less physically dependent on nicotine than men, but more behaviourally addicted, which is a more difficult type of addiction to kick. 

A useful fact for women trying to give up smoking is that you’re twice as likely to succeed if you stop in the second half of your menstrual cycle. The high levels of the hormone progesterone in your bloodstream at this point in your cycle can help to move nicotine out of your system more quickly, therefore reducing your withdrawal symptoms.

The good news is that when women successfully quit smoking, evidence suggests that their lungs recover more quickly than men's.

Women’s lungs are more vulnerable

Several studies have indicated that women are more prone to developing lung cancer than men. Female smokers are twice as likely to develop lung cancer as male smokers, even when they smoke fewer cigarettes over a shorter period of time. On the other hand, women with lung cancer usually live longer than men with the disease.  

The reason for this is not yet clear, but it could be genetic. Scientists have discovered that a gene which speeds up lung cancer growth is more active in women. Studies have also suggested that the female hormone oestrogen may play a part in the development of lung cancer among women.

Find lots of advice and practical tips for stopping smoking.

Page last reviewed: 24/04/2015

Next review due: 24/04/2018


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