Lung cancer kills more women in Canada than in other OECD countries

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New report compares Canada’s health system internationally

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November 21, 2013—In Canada, 47 out of 100,000 women die of lung cancer every year—almost double the average rate of 26.5 per 100,000 among member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

A new report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) notes that this may be related to the fact that the percentage of Canadian women who smoked in the 1980s was more than double that of today, and a lag time of up to 30 years exists between a reduction in smoking rates and a decline in lung cancer rates.

In 2010, only 14% of Canadian women were daily smokers, compared with 30% in 1980.

“Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Canada, with an expected 20,200 lung cancer deaths in Canada this year. While lung cancer mortality rates have been declining for men for some time, they have not yet shown the same pattern for women,” says Dr. Heather Bryant, Vice-President of Cancer Control at the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. “Studies like this one are intended to encourage conversations and identify areas for improvement. Continued efforts in tobacco control are clearly one way to influence these rates, and we are working with partners across the country to examine whether new interventions, such as low-dose CT to screen those at high risk for lung cancer, may also be of value to consider.”

Benchmarking Canada’s Health System: International Comparisons, which uses OECD data to compare Canada’s health system internationally, shows that out of 33 countries, only Iceland and Denmark had higher female lung cancer death rates in 2012.

Canada is much closer to the OECD average for male lung cancer deaths, at 72.3 per 100,000 (the average being 66.3).

Canada does well in other OECD indicators related to cancer, and its rates for breast cancer screening and survival are among the best.

Canada’s performance varies from best to among the worst

CIHI’s reportlooks at 72 health system performance indicators and reveals large variation in how Canada ranks internationally. It is among the best for some indicators, such as potentially avoidable hospital admissions for diabetes and asthma and overall stroke mortality.

However, improvements can be made when looking at patient safety indicators, including obstetric trauma and foreign objects left in after surgery. Other areas that may require further attention include diabetes rates and obesity rates. Obesity contributes to cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Globally, rates have doubled since 1980; now, one in four Canadians is obese.

“Reducing smoking rates was the challenge Canada faced over the past few decades,” says Jeremy Veillard, CIHI’s Vice President of Research and Analysis. “While progress has been made and we are seeing positive outcomes from healthy public policies, other areas call for attention, such as lowering obesity rates to help curb the prevalence of obesity-related diseases.”

OECD’s Health at a Glance 2013 now available

The data in CIHI’s reportcomes from Health at a Glance 2013, which is now available. This report provides the latest statistics and indicators for comparing health systems across 34 member countries.

About the Canadian Segment of the OECD Health Database

CIHI and Statistics Canada maintain the Canadian segment of the OECD Health Database, contributing national data on health care spending, health care services and the health status of the population. Most Canadian data originates from databases maintained by these two organizations, such as CIHI’s health expenditures, health services and health professionals databases and the demographic and vital statistics databases at Statistics Canada.


Figure 1

Lung Cancer Mortality Rates per 100,000 Population, by Gender, OECD Countries, 2012 (or Nearest Year) (Figure 6 in the report)

Figure 2

Percentage of Daily Smokers, by Gender, OECD Countries, 2011 (or Nearest Year)

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