Lung Cancer Surpasses Breast Cancer as Leading Cause of Cancer Death in Females

Trend reflects growing tobacco epidemic among women.

Trend reflects growing tobacco epidemic among women.

Lung cancer has overtaken breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in women from developing countries, according to a new study.

Conducted by the American Cancer Society in collaboration with the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the study reflects the growth of the tobacco epidemic in females, which occurred later than it did in men, the report noted.

Lung cancer, which for several decades has been the leading cause of cancer death in men from developed countries, is also the leading cause of cancer death for males in developing countries. In these countries, however, breast cancer is still the main cause of female cancer death.

The study, published recently in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, utilized worldwide estimates of cancer incidence and mortality reported by the IARC in 2012 for their GLOBOCAN series. The researchers noted that the occurrence of cancer is growing due to both the growth and aging of the population.

Also lending to the increased cancer occurrence is the rise in risk factors associated with economic growth and urbanization, including smoking, lack of physical health, and changing reproductive patterns.

The analysis revealed an estimated 14.1 million new cancer cases and 8.2 million cancer deaths worldwide during 2012. In underdeveloped countries, lung cancer and breast cancer are the most frequently diagnosed types of the disease.

In developed countries, prostate cancer and breast cancer are the most frequently diagnosed cancers in men and women, respectively.

Colorectal cancer prevalence has also grown to become a frequent cause of cancer death in both developed countries and developing countries. Breast, lung, and colorectal cancer prevalence were also found to be increasing in numerous countries that are undergoing an economic transition.

These regions also face a disproportionately high burden from cancers related to infection, which include cancers of the liver, stomach, and cervix, the study indicated.

"A substantial proportion of the worldwide burden of cancer can be prevented through the application of existing cancer control knowledge, including tobacco control, vaccination (for liver and cervical cancers), early detection, and the promotion of physical activity and healthy dietary patterns," the study authors wrote.

The authors noted that additional research is necessary to pinpoint the cause of several major cancers, including prostate and blood cancers.

"A coordinated and intensified response from all sectors of society, including governments, civil society, the private sector, and individuals, is required to seize control of the growing burden of cancer," the authors concluded.