Published on Mon, 09/19/2011 by Ontario Lung Association

Is lung health a woman's war?

By Libby Groff, chair of the Ontario Respiratory Care Society

(NC)--During the women's liberation movement of the 60s and 70s women began lighting up cigarettes as fast as they were burning their bras. Today, women have acquired equality in a way few suspected as tobacco-related lung disease has emerged a critical health issue for women. In fact, by the late 1990s, lung cancer rates in young women overtook that of young men, a disease that kills eight out of every 10 people who develop it.

Today, an estimated 33,000 Ontarians have lung cancer. A new report released by the Ontario Lung Association predicts this number will increase by 92 per cent in 30 years to 63,000, with more than half being women.

Roz Brodsky, 52, is one of the lucky ones. She's one of the 20 per cent who survived the disease, crediting early diagnosis and medical intervention.

"The moment I coughed up blood I went to see my doctor," says Roz, who is now six years cancer free. "It's a scary diagnosis. You never really shake the feeling of terror."

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes tobacco-related lung diseases such as bronchitis and emphysema, is also on the rise in women and the prevalence numbers are staggering. Right now in Ontario, more than 780,000 people have been diagnosed with COPD, of this, 50 per cent are women. The Ontario Lung Association projects these numbers will increase to 1.2 million over the next 30 years, proportionately affecting women, if nothing is done to curb the trend.

COPD is a chronic disease, which means it doesn't carry the same short-term mortality rate as lung cancer. But living with COPD, especially in its advanced stages, is a daily struggle, with many people requiring an oxygen tank 24-7. People can live a long time with the disease but resources are scarce to enable those with COPD the quality of life they have come to know. For example, only two per cent of people with COPD have access to pulmonary rehabilitation, medically proven to improve a person's lung capacity and therefore, ability to breathe. The Lung Association is hoping its new report, called Your Lungs, Your Life, will provide the evidence needed for the government of Ontario to commit to a lung health action plan.

"We know that if the government of Ontario takes on lung health as a priority and commits to a lung health action plan, we will be able to reduce the incidence of lung cancer and slow the debilitating progression of COPD," says Kelly Muñoz, a registered respiratory therapist and chair, Ontario Lung Association's Board of Directors.

Until then, the lung health organization is offering help to women wanting to liberate themselves from tobacco. Call its Helpline at 1-888-344-LUNG (5864) and speak to a certified respiratory educator about ways to quit smoking for good. You can learn more about the need for a lung health action plan online at www.on.lung.ca; suffragettes note there is a petition to sign now and a carry-forward call to action for the election.