Video: Study: Cancer risk for women greater

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/12/2004 7:58:08 PM ET 2004-01-13T00:58:08

Jantra Coll, a 22-year-old graduate student in psychology, began smoking four years ago to cope with the stress of her studies. She says, of course, that she knows smoking causes lung cancer.

"I think like a lot of ... people who start smoking. They don't think that they are going to continuously smoke or smoke so much that one day they will get cancer," says Coll.

But now she's up to smoking a pack a day -- just as a new study provides the best evidence yet that for women the risk of smoking is far higher than anyone knew.

The startling results come from studies involving a computed tomography scanner that detects early stages of lung cancer. The researchers looked at almost 3,000 current and former smokers and found that women who smoke the same amount as men are 2.7 times more likely to get lung cancer.

'A very strong message to younger women'
The study looked at two different groups of patients screened using CT scanning for lung nodules. In the first group, 22 cases of lung cancer were diagnosed in 459 women and 8 cases were found in 541 men enrolled in the study. In the second set of patients, there were 23 cases of lung cancer among 743 women, and only 12 in 747 men.

Learn more about lung cancerDr. Claudia Henschke, a pioneer in lung cancer detection and chief of the division of chest imaging at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center, headed the study. She says the findings show the need for better education and earlier screening among women.

"This should be a very strong message to younger women to stop smoking, and not to start smoking." Unfortunately "it's hard to really convince them that there's a lot of risk," says Henschke.

Georgette Kelly hopes her grandchildren will get the message. She was diagnosed with lung cancer three years ago -- after smoking since she was 15.

"I think everybody was doing it then," says Kelly. "It was the smart, sophisticated thing. Joan Crawford did it and all these great movie stars that you saw in the movies."

Today ad campaigns seek to take the glamour out of smoking. But 21 percent of girls in high school smoke, as do 23 percent of women ages 18 to 24.

And like many, Coll says she is not ready to quit despite the warnings.

"There's still part of me that thinks I won't get sick from smoking," Coll adds.

Maybe she won't. But experts say this latest study points to an epidemic of lung cancer in women still waiting to unfold.

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