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Lung cancer is now a bigger killer than breast cancer

LUNG cancer is the biggest killer of Irish women, having overtaken breast cancer.

Years of smoking have now taken their toll, and while lung cancer in men fell between 1994 and 2008, the reverse is happening for women.

Instead, the rate is rising by 2pc a year in women and, in a worrying trend, the largest increase of 4pc a year is seen in younger groups under 55 years of age, the annual report of the National Cancer Registry revealed.

"Lung cancer has now overtaken breast cancer as the cancer most likely to cause death in women," said registry director Dr Harry Comber.

The report, which was published today, shows that 1,059 men and 652 women were diagnosed with lung cancer each year on average between 1994 and 2008.

An average of 571 women are dying annually of the disease, which claims the lives of 966 men.

However, the good news is that more are surviving -- the percentage of patients alive five years after diagnosis rose from 8pc in 1994-1999 to 11pc in 2004-2007, even though early diagnosis was no more common.

The numbers having chemotherapy doubled in 10 years.

But survival rates for men and older patients, as well as those from deprived areas, were not as good.

The report, which looked at all cancers, showed that the number of people diagnosed with the disease has risen by almost 50pc since the mid-1990s due to an ageing population and bad lifestyle habits.

The number of new cases of invasive cancer rose from 17,429 in 1994 to 24,809 in 2009, an annual rise of 2.7pc for women and 3pc for men.

The lifetime risk of getting cancer for men is one in three, compared with one in four for women, according to the report.

But 90,000 are now alive 15 years after their diagnosis and cancer death rates here are now close to the European average.

The percentage of patients still alive five years after a cancer diagnosis has risen significantly from 40pc in 1994-1997 to 55pc in 2004-2007.

The report covers years before the overhaul of cancer services and the creation of eight centres of excellence in hospitals across the country.

The highest death rates were for lung, bowel, breast and prostate cancer.