Rates of lung cancer in women have soared in a sign that efforts to persuade them to quit smoking have failed, research reveals.

While the number of cases in men has fallen, the disease was shown to be claiming a growing number of female victims.

Lung cancer in women in England increased by 10 per cent between 1987 and 2006, climbing from 32.3 cases per 100,000 to 35.4 per 100,000 during the 19-year period.

While preventing smoking is key to reducing lung cancer, most of the work to encourage people to give up cigarettes has been focused on men, the report published by the South West Public Health Observatory indicates.

It highlights the need for a greater focus on targeting women with anti-smoking messages if lung cancer rates are to be reduced.

Among men, the rate of lung cancer fell from 70.4 per 100,000 in 2000 to 59.4 per 100,000 in 2007 in the UK. The figures are said to illustrate the trend of a decline in cases in men.

Cancer Research UK said the South West Public Health Observatory research was a “timely reminder” that there was still a long way to go to reduce smoking rates.

Henry Scowcroft, the charity’s science information manager, said: “We agree with the researchers’ conclusion that targeted efforts will be needed to reduce inequalities in smoking rates in the UK and to help people to quit.

The research on prevalence of the disease in women will be published at the British Thoracic Society’s winter meeting on Friday.

Dr Paul Beckett, chair of the BTS advisory group on lung cancer and respiratory physician at Burton Hospitals Trust in Staffordshire, said: “While it’s encouraging to see that improvements are being made in the treatment of lung cancer, we need to work on removing variations in care and make sure everyone across the country is receiving the same excellent quality of care.”

A separate report suggested improvements in the treatment of lung cancer were being made, but slowly. The National Lung Cancer Audit, now in its fifth year, aims to record lung cancer on a large scale and look at the variations in treatment across the UK.

Recent results show there are still wide variations in outcomes for patients between different trusts, although the gap is narrowing.

The report recommended a greater focus on improving services dealing with lung cancer.