(HealthDay News) – Although female smokers had a lower risk of dying of lung cancer than male smokers through the 1980s, male and female smokers now have similar risks of dying from lung cancer and other causes, according to a study published in the Jan. 24 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Michael J. Thun, MD, from the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, and colleagues compared trends in mortality based on gender and smoking status from 1959–1965, 1982–1988, and 2000–2010. They analyzed data from two historical American Cancer Society cohorts and pooled data from five contemporary cohort studies in the United States, including people ≥55 years of age.

The researchers found that, for women, compared with never smokers, current smokers had a relative risk of dying from lung cancer of 2.73 for the 1960s group, 12.65 for the 1980s group, and 25.66 for the contemporary cohorts. Similarly for men, compared with never smokers, current smokers had corresponding relative risks of 12.22, 23.81, and 24.97. In the 2000s group, male and female current smokers had similar relative risks of dying of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, ischemic heart disease, any type of stroke, and all causes combined. For men, the relative risk of death from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease continued to increase. Quitting smoking at any age dramatically reduced death rates.

“In conclusion, there have been large, persistent increases in the risks of smoking-related deaths among female cigarette smokers over the past half century; in relative terms, the risks for women now equal those for men,” Thun and colleagues conclude.

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