However, a recent study published on June 25 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology says that lung cancer deaths are "steady or rising" among middle-aged women who live in the South or Midwest.
What could be the cause of such a dramatic, unexpected spike?
"In the 60s and 70s, there was a sharp increase in the number of girls, not boys, who started to smoke," said Ahmedin Jemal in an interview with USNews.com's HealthDay. Jemal is vice president of surveillance research for the American Cancer Society and the lead author of this study. "These women are now in their 50s, and already we're seeing a sharp rise in deaths from lung cancer in this group."
A generation of women reached late adolescence and their early 20s at a time when women's empowerment was on the rise, according to HealthDay. 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.
According to Reuters, the study is based on data for more than one million U.S. white women aged 35 to 84, who died of lung cancer between 1973 and 2007. The researchers compared 23 states, including 10 in the south and six in the Midwest, and California and New York.
When it came to baby boomers, post-World War II babies of the late 1940s and 1950s, the numbers of young women dying of lung cancer rose again but only in some states.
Jemal added that weak anti-smoking political action could be the reason more women are dying in the southern and midwestern states, noting that California was a leader in aggressive tobacco control policies - though he added that tying the decreasing lung cancer death rate to that was still only speculation at this point.
So while great progress has been made in the field of lung cancer, this study shows that much more work needs to be done, both culturally and politically.
• Lung Cancer Deaths Rise Among 'Boomer' Women in South (USNews.com HealthDay, June 26, 2012)
• Study: Women's lung cancer deaths up in parts of U.S. (Reuters, via Chicago Tribune, June 27, 2012)
• Increasing Lung Cancer Death Rates Among Young Women in Southern and Midwestern States (Journal of Clinical Oncology, June 25, 2012)