More women than men develop cancer

March 8, 1996

Women are developing cancer more frequently than men for the first time since records began, a new report shows. Over the past 20 years, young women's cancers have increased fivefold, says Colin Pritchard, professor in the department of social work studies at Southampton University.

Professor Pritchard studied death rates from cancer in England and Wales between 1973 and 1992. He discovered one piece of good news: deaths from cancer fell substantially for men under 65 and for women under 55. The drop in deaths makes Britain one of the world leaders in reducing cancer deaths.

The bad news is that the incidence of new cancers is rising faster than the number of lives being saved. New cancers in babies and young men have increased, although not as much as in young women. In baby girls new cancers went up by 80 per cent over the study period; in baby boys they were up by a third.

In women there was a major increase in cervical cancers although, again, deaths from cervical cancer have fallen.

Professor Prtichard said: "These increases cannot be accounted for by better diagnosis and screening. If that were the case, we would see no link with specific age groups or the sexes, or big rises in site-specific malignancies like breast and prostrate cancers."

Professor Pritchard believes that these findings must be due to social and environmental changes, in particular the transformation in the lives of women over the past 20 years. They smoke more, use motor cars more and do jobs that were previously only done by men.

"People are being exposed to more accumulative minor physical stresses which collectively lead to a greater risk of malignant disease," he said. "The fact that this study shows marked increases in incidence among girls and younger women appears to support this view".

Professor Pritchard's work was published by the Society of Health.

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