Smoking-related cancer statistics reveal gender divide

09 May 2012

Calgary -

Lung cancer deaths among Canadian women this year will be nearly double that of breast cancer deaths.

Lung cancer – the most preventable cancer – continues to be the number one cancer killer among men and women, according to the latest annual Canadian Cancer Statistics report, released today by the Canadian Cancer Society.

“The good news is that lung cancer rates are somewhat lower in Alberta compared to other provinces,” says Angeline Webb of the Canadian Cancer Society. “However, the numbers are still staggering – more than 1,500 Albertans will needlessly lose their lives this year to a disease that is largely preventable.” 

Although overall cancer death rates in Canada are declining, the statistics for men and women are significantly different. For men, overall death rates dropped by 21% but for women it was only 9% between 1988 and 2007, the most recent data available.

The disparity reflects the fact that smoking rates for North American men began to drop in the early 1960s, whereas that didn’t occur for the majority of women until the 1980s.

In the 1960s and 70s, there was more public awareness about the dangers of smoking but it wasn’t enough to make women stop smoking – including a whole new generation of younger women smokers.

Smoking causes 85% of all lung cancer cases, and it’s predicted there will be more than 25,000 Canadians diagnosed with the disease this year. The mortality rate is high for lung cancer due to the fact that it’s usually detected at an advanced stage. More than 20,000 Canadians will die of lung cancer in 2012.

On top of that, tobacco use is also linked to other cancers, including mouth, larynx, stomach, esophagus, pancreas, bladder and ovarian, among others.


Fast Facts: Tobacco use and lung cancer

  • This year, lung cancer will claim the lives of 9,400 Canadian women, compared to 5,100 deaths due to breast cancer.
  • Although the lung cancer death rate for men has dropped by 30% between 1988 and 2007, the same rate for women is only just beginning to stabilize.
  • The difference is due to the fact that smoking rates among women peaked later than among men. Women’s smoking rates didn’t begin to decline until the 1980s.
  • Every day on average, 70 Canadians will be diagnosed with lung cancer and 55 Canadians die of it. 
  • More Canadians die of lung cancer every year than the combined deaths due to breast, colorectal and prostate cancer.
  • Smoking causes about 30% of all cancer deaths in Canada.

Fast Facts: Women and smoking

  • At the turn of the century in North America, it was considered socially unacceptable for women to smoke cigarettes.
  • That began to change around the First World War and, influenced by tobacco industry marketing, smoking rates among women began to climb.
  • Smoking was seen as a symbol of freedom for women during the early part of the twentieth century – an idea that tobacco companies quickly adopted for marketing purposes.
  • By 1965, 38% of Canadian women over the age of 15 were smokers.
  • Today, approximately 14% of Canadian women smoke.
  • The lung cancer death rate has not dropped yet among Canadian women because smoking prevalence among women peaked later than men and a substantial decline didn’t begin until the 1980s.

Canadian Cancer Statistics 2012 is prepared, printed and distributed through a collaboration of the Canadian Cancer Society, the Public Health Agency of Canada, Statistics Canada, provincial/territorial cancer registries, as well as university-based and provincial/territorial cancer agency-based cancer researchers.
For more information about Canadian Cancer Statistics 2012, visit the Society’s website at

The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) is the only national charity that supports Canadians with all cancers in communities across the country. No other organization does what we do; we are the voice for Canadians who care about cancer. We fund groundbreaking research, provide a support system for all those affected by cancer and advocate to governments for important social change.

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