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Lung cancer rates in Australian women on track to surpass men by 2017

16th June 2015 - Cancer research

The number of women living with lung cancer in Australia is expected to surpass that of men by 2017, according to new research by Cancer Council NSW released today.[1]

The study, published in Cancer Epidemiology, used cancer registrations from NSW to estimate lung cancer prevalence from 1987 – 2007 and found that the number of females living with lung cancer cases continues to rise, while the number of males living with lung cancer has dropped.

Further insights from the study highlighted the five-year lung cancer prevalence rate in women increased significantly over this time (88 per cent), while the prevalence rate fell in men during the same period (15 per cent decrease).

Associate Professor Karen Canfell, Director of Cancer Research at Cancer Council NSW said the results reflect smoking behaviours from decades ago, as lung cancer incidence trends closely follow patterns of smoking,[2] with a general 20-30 year lag between population smoking patterns and subsequent lung cancer diagnosis.

“There is strong evidence that tobacco smoking causes lung cancer. Smoking rates in men were seen to drop around the mid-1950s, and as a result there has been a drop in lung cancer incidence amongst men from the early 1980s. 

“However, it was only in the mid-1980s that we started to see a reduction in smoking rates in women and we are seeing little sign in the most recent data that the number of women diagnosed with lung cancer in Australia has, or soon will, reach a peak,” she said.

“As lung cancer prevalence in women continues to increase, and surpass men, we may only see the true impact of these smoking habits as much as 40 years later. This new information should act as a warning to the current health system so that it can help prepare for the resources and infrastructure that will be needed to meet future demands.”

Cancer Council Tobacco Control Manager, Scott Walsberger said that these new figures speak to the importance of getting smoking cessation messages through to younger generations, if we are to prevent future deaths from lung cancer in the next 20–30 years.

“Lung cancer continues to be the leading cause of cancer death in Australia and is the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer type.[3]  Recent figures released from the Australian Government show that smoking rates overall are falling, so comprehensive legislation and tobacco control measures are working, but smoking rates among women are highest in those aged 25-29 years (15.0 per cent), which is concerning.[4]

“Since a vast majority of lung cancer cases are attributable to cigarette smoking, further strengthening of current tobacco control measures – including strategies to encourage young adults to quit smoking and preventing youth from starting in the first place will be critical, if we are to reduce the prevalence of lung cancer in future Australians, particularly women,” he said.

Cancer Council NSW urges people to understand the signs and symptoms of lung cancer, as early diagnosis is vitally important in helping to treat the disease.

To seek further information on lung cancer and quitting smoking, visit or call 13 11 20 to speak to a specialist cancer professional. 


Media Contact: Gina Murphy, PR Manager, Cancer Council NSW, 0413 889 283/ 02-9334 1428

Media Interviews:

Associate Professor Karen Canfell, Director of Cancer Research at Cancer Council NSW

Scott Walsberger, Tobacco Control Manager at Cancer Council NSW

Notes to editors: The full journal on “Lung cancer prevalence in New South Wales (Australia): Analysis of past trends and projection of future estimates” can be downloaded here at

  • Data was obtained from the NSW Central Cancer Registry and included lung cancer cases diagnosed in 1983 – 2007 with survival follow up to the end of 2007. Five year prevalence was then calculated by the counting method at five time points (1987, 1992, 1997, 2002 and 2007). Historical prevalence trends (from 1987 – 2007) were then extrapolated into 2008 – 2017.
  • Trends in five year prevalence rates between 1987 and– 2007 in NSW revealed an increase by 88 per cent in women (from 21.8 per 100,000 in 1987 to 41.0 per 100,000 in 2007) compared with a 15 per cent decrease in men (from 77.5 per 100, 000 in 1987 to 65.6 per 100,000 in 2007).

[1] Yu XQ, Kahn, C., Luo Q., Sitas, F., O’Connell, D.L.  Lung cancer prevalence in New South Wales (Australia): Analysis of past trends and projection of future estimates. Cancer Epidemiology 2015

[2] Youlden DR, Cramb SM, Baade PD. The International Epidemiology of Lung Cancer: geographical distribution and secular trends. J Thorac Oncol. 2008; 3: 819-31.

[3] Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality (ACIM) Books – Lung cancer for Australia (ICD10 C33-C34). 

[4] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2014. National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report 2013. Drug statistics series no. 28. Cat. no. PHE 183. Canberra: AIHW.

Cancer research