Figures show that lung cancer has increased as a result of past smoking rates.

Despite smoking rates falling to record lows, private health insurance claims for lung cancer have soared 21 per cent for women and 24 per cent for men in five years.

Health insurance giant MBF said the rise in lung cancer claims from 2002-06 was a deadly legacy of an era of few restrictions on sales of cigarettes and where they were smoked.

Quit Victoria director Fiona Sharkie said, "More than 80 per cent of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking, and the disease takes about 20 years to develop."

Ms Sharkie added, " Thirty per cent of Victorian women and 37 per cent of men smoked 20 years ago. But now just 16 per cent of women and 20 per cent of men are smokers."

MBF chief medical officer Christine Bennett said the rise in lung cancer claims for men was expected because they were heavier smokers than women.

But Ms Bennett said, "The growing number of lung cancer claims for women reflects the health and social impact of a period when the female smoking rate began catching up with that of men."

She added, "Our claims data shows women are paying a high health price for taking up smoking when there were few restrictions on cigarette sales, or curbs on smoking in public places. Australia has made significant progress in the past 20 years in reducing smoking rates but we are still experiencing an unfortunate health care legacy."

Ms Sharkie said the fall in Victorian smoking rates was already being reflected in declining numbers of lung cancer cases in the state.

But nationally, lung cancer has risen steadily over the past 20 years, from 6349 new cases in 1986 to an estimated 9187 new cases in 2006, and a forecast 10,302 new cases in 2011.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures show the disease claimed the lives of 4733 men and 2531 women in 2004.

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