Lung cancer in females will rise thirty-times faster than in males over the next thirty years in the United Kingdom, according to a new report by King’s College London, and funded by Macmillan Cancer Support.

The authors of the report say that the number of annual deaths among women in the UK will rise from approximately 26,000 in 2010 to about 95,000 in 2040 – an increase of over 350%.

Male annual cancer deaths over the same period are expected to rise by 8%, from 39,000 in 2010 to 42,000 in 2040.

Lung cancer will continue being the largest cancer killer among men and females. Within the next thirty years, more women will die from the disease each year than men.

Forty-seven percent of women with lung cancer will be long-term survivors by 2040, compared to 59% of men. A long term survivor has lived for at least five years since diagnosis.

The researchers estimate that there will be twice as many people living with lung cancer by 2040 compared to 2010, from about 65,000 to 137,000. The main reason for the increase will be an aging population. The longer you live, the higher is your risk of developing most cancers, including lung cancer.

Even though lung cancer causes more deaths annually than any other type of cancer, research on the disease lags behind. Four times as much is spent on breast cancer research than lung cancer.

Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, Ciarán Devane, says:

“Lung cancer is often overlooked among cancers but these figures should serve as a firm reminder that it is still very much a cancer killer. For most cancers in the UK we are looking at how we can cope with a population of long-term survivors with health complications. With lung cancer we are a long way from even being able to consider these issues. Lung cancer survival needs to improve.

Prevention is important but so too is research into the disease and its treatment. It is nonsensical that research in this area receives such minimal funding compared with other cancers. This has to change.”

Although surgery is a key option for many cancer patients and impacts on survival outlook, it is commonly underused and access to it depends on where in the UK the patient lives.

Lung cancer is the uncontrolled duplication of abnormal cells that originate in one or both lungs; typically among the cells that line the air passages. The abnormal cells, instead of developing into healthy lung tissue, divide rapidly and form tumors. As the tumors grow and become more numerous, the lung’s ability to provide vital oxygen to the bloodstream in undermined. A tumor that stays in one place and does not spread is known as a benign tumor.

Tumors that spread to other parts of the body are called malignant tumors – they spread either through the lymphatic system or the bloodstream. When lung cancer has spread, or metastasized, it becomes extremely difficult to treat effectively.

Primary lung cancer started off in the lungs, while secondary lung cancer originated in another part of the body and spread to the lungs. Primary and secondary lung cancers are treated differently.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that by the end of 2012, over 226,160 new cancer diagnoses will be made in the USA, and 160,340 people will have died of the disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 7.6 million people die from cancer worldwide annually – 13% of all deaths. Lung cancer is the largest cancer killer globally.

Total number of people estimated to die from different cancers each year worldwide (Source: WHO):

  • Lung cancer – 1,370,000
  • Stomach cancer – 736,000
  • Liver cancer – 695,000
  • Colorectal cancer – 608,000
  • Breast cancer – 458,000
  • Cervical cancer – 275,000

14% of all new cancer diagnoses in the USA are of lung cancer, says the American Cancer Society. More Americans die of lung cancer each year than prostate, breast and colon cancers combined. The majority of lung cancer patients are either current regular smokers or used to be.

Most lung cancer patients are diagnosed when they are at least sixty years old. Most people are diagnosed when the disease is already in an advanced stage.

Written by Christian Nordqvist