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Tobacco use started to drop in the 1960s for men, but 1980s for women. (Darron Cummings/Associated Press)

Cancer is killing fewer people overall in New Brunswick, but the number of women dying from lung cancer is on the rise, according to new data released Wednesday by the Canadian Cancer Society.

There were lower mortality rates in the province for the four major types of cancer — colorectal, breast, prostate, as well as lung cancer in men, the report shows.

Officials attribute the decrease to lower smoking rates, better screening and treatment.

Meanwhile, the lung cancer death rates in women are trending upward, according to the Canadian Cancer Statistics 2012.

Although lung cancer remains the most common cause of cancer death for both men and women, the lung cancer death rate for men has dropped by about 30 per cent between 1988 and 2007.

In women, however, there is a "slight but statistically signficant" increase in mortality rates of about 0.7 per cent, according to the report.

Smoking rates key

Researchers believe that's because smoking among women peaked later than it did with men, and women have been slower to quit.

"The smoking rate for men declined in the 1960s," said oncologist Dr. Eshwar Kumar of the New Brunswick branch of the Canadian Cancer Society.

"It generally takes about 25-30 years to see the benefits of that, whereas the rates for women dropped in the mid- to late 80s. So they are about 20 to 25 years behind men," he said.

"So it's going to take another little while before we see that, probably another five or 10 years, we think."

'More New Brunswickers die of lung cancer every year than the combined deaths from breast, colorectal and prostate cancer.' —Anne McTiernan-Gamble, N.B. Cancer Society 

New Brunswick continues to have higher than average smoking rates overall – 19 per cent in 2010, compared to 17 per cent nationally, the report shows.

That means one-fifth of the New Brunswick population still smokes.

Tobacco use accounts for more than 25 per cent of all cancer deaths, said Anne McTiernan-Gamble, CEO of the New Brunswick chapter.

"More New Brunswickers die of lung cancer every year than the combined deaths from breast, colorectal and prostate cancer," she said in a statement.

Calls for stronger tobacco control

McTiernan-Gamble contends stronger tobacco control efforts in the province are needed, such as a ban on smoking in outdoor public places, including sports fields, parks, playgrounds and entrances to public buildings.

The society is also advocating for a ban on flavoured tobacco products and subsidized pharmacological support for smokers who wish to quit, she said.

Nicole Gray, of Saint John, says she’d like some help to kick the bad habit for good.

She has stopped twice before while she was pregnant, but both times she started up again after giving birth, she said.

"If there was more programs to help people quit smoking that might kinda help," said Gray.

"I mean, I've smoked since I was younger. I'd love to quit. I have two small kids that don't want me smoking, so."

The report estimates 420 men and 280 women will die from lung cancer in the province this year.

About 1,900 people will die from all forms of cancer in New Brunswick, while about 5,000 new cases will be diagnosed, the report says.

Society officials expect those numbers could get worse before they get better.

"While the rate is decreasing, the mortality rate is improving, the numbers we see are going to be increasing because many of us are moving into that age group where cancers tend to be more common," said Kumar.

The report also notes an increase in less common cancers in the province, including kidney, liver, and thyroid.