Lung Cancer Led Female Cancer Deaths in 2012

Woman holding X-ray of lung cancer

Think fast: Which cancer has the highest female mortality rate?

Many of us would guess a cancer that predominantly affects women, like breast cancer. It’s a logical choice; close to 40,000 women were projected to pass away from the disease in 2012, and numerous breast cancer awareness events (rightly) keep the disease fresh in our minds.

But when it comes to mortality, breast cancer is not the leading cancer killer in women. It comes in second, and actually far from the leader.

The surprising front-runner?

Lung cancer.

With an estimated 72,590 female fatalities in 2012, lung cancer was the deadliest cancer in women last year. This was nearly double the amount of female deaths caused by breast cancer.

The female mortality rate from lung cancer has steadily increased 106 percent in the last 33 years. American Cancer Society researchers suggest that the rates for middle-aged women in the Midwest are still rising. They also suggest that the risk is roughly twice as high for women who were born in the 1960s (when compared to women born in the 1930s).

New Year, New Approach

Moving into 2013, we certainly hope to see this rate decline. But will it?

Researchers attributed most of last year’s female lung cancer deaths to societal trends. The majority of women currently diagnosed with lung cancer are post-menopausal; when they were growing up, smoking was normal and not viewed as a high health risk. In the 1960s and ’70s, women were also more likely to come into contact with other lung cancer causing agents, such as asbestos, radon gas and air pollution.

Since the cancer often develops slowly over time, women whose lifestyles exposed them to these carcinogens many years ago may just now be noticing the health effects. The good news, though, is that lung cancer screenings for high-risk individuals can reduce lung cancer deaths by up to 20 percent.

Since 2010, when the National Lung Screening Trial first indicated this potential reduction, more organizations have started offering the scans. Current or former smokers between the ages of 55 and 75 are especially encouraged to participate in these preventative screenings – regardless of their sex.

Additionally, anyone with a history of asbestos exposure should seek health screenings for lung cancer and mesothelioma. Those exposed to radon gas should also undergo preventative screenings.

For women, early diagnosis may be especially beneficial. Female lung cancer patients have a higher relative survival than men, especially when diagnosed with an earlier stage of the cancer.

Despite this promising information, one primary action can serve as a preventative measure: smoking cessation.

New year’s resolution, anyone?


After graduating with an English degree from Southeastern University in 2010, Faith Franz came on board as a health and wellness writer for The Mesothelioma Center.

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