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More women than men in Northern hit by lung cancer

By Claire O'Boyle

Female cancer rates have surged by almost a quarter in Northern Ireland in the last decade, with more women than men now diagnosed with lung cancer.

Researchers at Queen's University found 698 women were diagnosed with lung cancer in 2016, compared to 653 men.

Overall cancer figures show rises in both men and women, with a near 15% increase among men, with numbers shooting from 4,044 in 2007 to 4,629 in 2016, and 24% for women, jumping from 3,885 in 2007 to 4,817 in 2016.

Researchers say the increases - 19% overall - are down to our ageing population.

However, when the experts made adjustments to take population age into account, they discovered figures for men have in fact fallen consistently since 2011 - by 1.5% per year.

The opposite was true for women, however, with numbers rising steadily by 1% every year since 2001.

Lung cancer rates in women have risen at a rate of 6% per year since 2010.

Dr Anna Gavin, who conducted the research, said: "One of the biggest issues identified is in lung cancer cases among women, and that is related to tobacco. There's at least a 20-year lag between a population stopping smoking and rates of lung cancer.

"The reality is women have not stopped smoking at the same rate as men, and 20 to 30 years ago more women were smoking with men.

"It's an issue we need to tackle. The other pattern we noticed is that women being diagnosed with lung cancer are younger, so many are mothers and grandmothers and they are a huge loss to their families and society."

In positive news for women, the number of pre-cervical cancer cases fell significantly in the 10 years before 2016, with 920 cases diagnosed that year. More than 1,160 were identified in 2015.

Colorectal cases have also fallen for both men and women, by 5% per year since 2012 and 2013.

"Screening plays a big part in these improvements," added Dr Gavin. "With things like bowel cancer and cervical cases, polyps and pre-cancerous cells are identified and dealt with very early, before cancer even develops.

"I can't tell people strongly enough to go along to screening appointments when they're invited because they are making an impact."

The report found survival rates in all forms of cancer have improved, although gains in lung cancer are only marginally better, with five-year survival rates at 10.4%.

In comparison, 88.7% of prostate cancer patients, 81.7% of female breast cancer patients and 57.6% of colorectal cancer patients have reached five years after diagnosis.

By the end of 2016, a total of 61,038 people were living in Northern Ireland who had been diagnosed with cancer since 1993. Of those, 43.7% were male, 47.4% were aged 70 and over, and 10.9% had been diagnosed the previous year.

The research, by the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry at Queen's, identified that cancer incidence is 10% higher in deprived areas compared to the average. In the most affluent areas, cancer rates are 4% lower.

People in poorer areas are more likely to suffer from lung, head and neck, oesophagus, stomach, male-colorectal and cervix cancer, while in wealthier areas melanoma and breast cancer are the most common.

A quarter of male cancers identified between 2012 and 2016 were prostate cancer. Colorectal cancer accounted for 14%, while 14% were lung cancer.

In women, the most common cancer was breast (30%), with lung next at 13% and colorectal at 11%.

Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, the research found the odds of developing the disease by the age of 75 were 1 in 3.5 for men and 1 in 3.7 for women. Cancer risk is strongly related to age, with over 60% of cases occurring in people aged 65-plus.

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