TUESDAY, June 26 (HealthDay News) -- Although the overall lung cancer rate in the United States has been declining in recent years, new research shows a troubling increase in lung cancer deaths among baby boomer women living in some southern and Midwestern states.
A generation of women reached late adolescence and their early 20s at a time when women's empowerment was on the rise. And a 1968 cigarette campaign tied to that cultural shift, "You've come a long way, baby," marketed Virginia Slims to teenage girls and young women. The advertising -- and the evolving popular culture -- encouraged women to smoke as a sign of their liberation from traditional roles.
Researchers say that this switch in society's attitude about smoking, especially among women, may be responsible for the rise in lung cancer deaths among women born after 1950.
"In the 60s and 70s, there was a sharp increase in the number of girls, not boys, who started to smoke," explained Ahmedin Jemal, vice president of surveillance research for the American Cancer Society and the lead author of a study published June 25 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology .
"These women are now in their 50s, and already we're seeing a sharp rise in deaths from lung cancer in this group. Because it's occurring in people who are young and middle-aged, if they quit now, they can decrease their lung cancer risk by 50 percent as compared to those who continue to smoke," Jemal said.
The researchers tapped a nationwide mortality database from the National Cancer Institute to identify emerging regional state-by-state trends in lung cancer death rates from 1973 through 2007. They were able to pull data related to age, sex and race for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, studying changes in lung cancer death rates among white women in the 23 states that had enough data available to allow analysis.
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