Smoke like a man, die like a man.
U.S. women who smoke today have a much greater risk of dying from lung cancer than they did decades ago, partly because they are starting younger and smoking more — that is, they are lighting up like men, new research shows.
Women also have caught up with men in their risk of dying from smoking-related illnesses. Lung cancer risk leveled off in the 1980s for men but is still rising for women.
It's a massive failure in prevention, said one study leader, Dr. Michael Thun of the American Cancer Society.
The research is in today's New England Journal of Medicine.
The U.S. has more than 35 million smokers — about 20 percent of men and 18 percent of women.
Researchers wanted to know if smoking is still as deadly as it was in the 1980s, given that cigarettes have changed (less tar), many smokers have quit, and treatments for many smoking-related diseases have improved.
They also wanted to know more about smoking and women. The famous surgeon general's report in 1964 said smoking could cause lung cancer in men, but evidence was lacking in women at the time since relatively few of them had smoked long enough.
One study, led by Dr. Prabhat Jha of the Center for Global Health Research in Toronto, looked at about 217,000 Americans in federal health surveys between 1997 and 2004.
A second study, led by Thun, tracked smoking-related deaths through three periods — 1959-65, 1982-88 and 2000-10.
Among the findings:
• The risk of dying of lung cancer was more than 25 times higher for female smokers in recent years than for women who never smoked. In the 1960s, it was only three times higher.
• A person who never smoked was about twice as likely as a current smoker to live to age 80. For women, the chances of surviving that long were 70 percent for those who never smoked and 38 percent for smokers. In men, the numbers were 61 percent and 26 percent.
• Smokers in the U.S. are three times more likely to die between ages 25 and 79 than non-smokers are. About 60 percent of those deaths are attributable to smoking.
• The risk of dying from other lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis is rising in men and women, and the rise in men is a surprise because their lung cancer risk leveled off in 1980s.