Five out of every 1,000 deaths in Switzerland now involve assisted suicide, with women more likely to die this way than men, according to the first official figures released Tuesday.

Swiss authorities recorded a steady rise of assisted suicides in recent years, from 43 in 1998 to 297 in 2009. Earlier figures aren't available, even though assisted suicide has been legal in Switzerland since 1942.

The figures were compiled as part of a government effort to scrutinize the work of assisted suicide groups who provide counseling and a lethal cocktail of drugs to those wanting to kill themselves.

Last year the government dropped plans to impose tighter rules on their work, saying new laws could infringe on people's personal freedoms.

The survey shows almost 90 percent of cases involved people aged 55 or over. Only 1 percent involved people under 35—or about 20 deaths over the 12-year period.

The data also show more women sought assisted suicide than men, making up about 55 percent of cases.

Most patients were suffering from terminal illnesses, particularly cancer. But over the survey period at least 71 people opted for assisted suicide citing depression, and 24 were suffering from blindness, the Federal Statistical Office said.

The figures cover only assisted suicides by Swiss residents. Groups such as Dignitas that provide help to foreign residents keep separate records.

Bernhard Sutter, the vice president of Switzerland's biggest assisted suicide group, EXIT, said the publication of the figures shows that the practice is becoming more acceptable.

Sutter told The Associated Press that until recently, official Swiss statistics listed those who died by assisted suicide as "poisoned."