Addressing the new COPD research, which seems to say that women are more vulnerable, Thun said other factors might be at play. They include women's longer life expectancy, thus making them more likely to develop the condition.
Thun said the focus on possible gender differences is missing the point. Instead, he said, health experts -- and the public -- need to focus on what is certain: that smoking is an enormous contributor to both lung cancer and COPD.
"If they [smokers] quit before age 50, they avoid most of the risk," he said, citing published research.
And once they do quit, Thun said, women and men can move on to other known ways to reduce their risk for lung cancer, such as avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in the United States. More people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined, according to the American Cancer Society.
The society estimates that there will be more than 219,000 new cases of lung cancer diagnosed this year and that 159,390 people will die from the disease.
The American Cancer Society has more on smoking and lung cancer.
SOURCES: Michael Thun, M.D., emeritus director of epidemiological research, American Cancer Society, Atlanta; Dawn L. DeMeo, M.D., M.P.H., researcher, Channing Laboratory, and assistant professor, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston; American Cancer Society Cancer Facts & Figures 2009; American Thoracic Society International Conference, May 15-20, 2009, San Diego; European Society for Medical
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