MedUni Vienna: Gender differences in lung cancer mortality analysed

Average age at death stagnates for women and increases for men

Until the mid-1990s, epidemiological studies showed that, on average, male lung cancer patients in Austria died earlier than female patients. A recently published analysis by MedUni Vienna shows that the tide has turned: While the average age at death for men is continuously increasing, there has been no statistically significant improvement for women in recent decades. The researchers cite different developments in the smoking habits of the sexes as a possible explanation and advocate increased prevention in female adolescents. The study was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.

Previous research demonstrated a continuous decline in the mean age at death of male lung cancer patients in Austria until the 1990s. At that time, affected men reached an age of just under 68 years, while women with lung cancer lived to an average age of almost 71 years at that time. Until the current publication by Richard Felsinger, Ursula Kunze and Ernest Groman from the Centre for Public Health at MedUni Vienna, it was not known how the average age at death of lung cancer patients in Austria had developed since then. The data analysis presents a contrary trend: For male lung cancer patients in Austria, there is a significant increase in the median age at death between the periods 1992-2001 (68.12 years) and 2012-2021 (70.72 years). In contrast, there was no significant change in women with lung cancer during the periods described (70.43 and 70.66 years).

The commencement of smoking at an early age is particularly harmful to women

The analysis should be viewed against the background of the overall steady increase in life expectancy in Austria, the progress in diagnosis and therapy of lung cancer and the gender-specific differences in smoking behaviour. "The continuous increase in the life expectancy in Austria may be partly reflected in the increase of the median age at death among men with lung cancer. On the other hand, the upward trend does not seem to have any influence on female lung cancer patients," reports study leader Richard Felsinger. The researchers suggest that the reasons for this are different developments in the smoking habits of men and women. While men show improvements in all respects, women have even worsened in terms of frequency and age of initiation. According to studies, starting smoking at a young age has a particularly negative effect on women and is regarded in research as an independent risk factor for the development of lung cancer. "In addition to prevalence, this could also be a reason why women do not benefit from medical progress in the treatment of lung cancer to the same extent as men.

According to current data, lung cancer was the second-most common cause of new cancer cases in Austria in 2020, with 2,011 cases in women and 2,788 in men. Smoking is still considered the main cause. With approximately one in five cancer deaths, lung cancer ranked first among cancer-related causes of death for men (21 %); in case of women, it was second only to breast cancer (17%). "Due to the increase in the average age of death in men and the stagnation in this context in women, we detect a clear negative trend in the female gender through our analysis. Based on our results, we therefore urgently recommend the targeting of prevention measures in case of women, particularly in female adolescents," appeals Richard Felsinger.

Publication: Frontiers in Public Health

Gender differences in lung cancer epidemiology – do Austrian male lung cancer patients still die earlier in life?

Richard Felsinger, Ursula Kunze, Ernest Groman,

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