Background: Recent case-control studies suggest that, given equal smoking exposure, women may have a higher relative risk of developing lung cancer than men. Despite prospective data that conflict with this hypothesis, mechanistic studies to find a biologic basis for a sex difference continue.
Methods: We addressed the hypothesis directly by analyzing prospective data from former and current smokers in two large cohorts--the Nurses' Health Study of women and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study of men. We calculated incidence rates and hazard ratios of lung cancer in women compared with men, adjusting for age, number of cigarettes smoked per day, age at start of smoking, and time since quitting, using Cox proportional hazards models. We also reviewed published results from prospective analyses.
Results: From 1986 through 2000, 955 and 311 primary lung cancers were identified among 60 296 women and 25 397 men, respectively, who ranged in age from 40 to 79 years. Incidence rates per 100 000 person-years for women and men were 253 and 232, respectively, among current smokers and 81 and 73, respectively, among former smokers. The hazard ratio in women ever smokers compared with men was 1.11 (95% confidence interval = 0.95 to 1.31). Six published prospective cohort studies allowed assessment of comparative susceptibility to lung cancer by sex. None supported an excess risk of lung cancer for women.
Conclusions: Women do not appear to have a greater susceptibility to lung cancer than men, given equal smoking exposure. Research should be focused on enhancing preventive interventions for all.