Sunday, June 28, 2009

Women Beware: Smoking Is More Hazardous to Your Health

For most people, when stress presents itself we resort to some sort of relief. For some we turn to food, for others it is the more dangerous choice of smoking cigarettes. It is a well-known fact that smoking is not a healthy habit for anyone, but a steadily growing body of research suggests that women are considered to be more vulnerable to the lung-damaging effects of cigarettes than men are.

A recent study, presented this week at the American Thoracic Society’s annual meeting in San Diego, found that women developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at a much earlier age and after less years of smoking than men did. Previous studies about lung cancer have also shown that cigarette smoking is much more likely to cause lung cancer in women than men, even though they tend to start smoking at a later age and also smoke less.

Dr. Inga-Cecilie Soerheim, who is the co-author of the most recent study and a research fellow at the Channing Laboratory, which is division of Brigham and Young Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said, “Many people believe that their own smoking is too limited to be harmful—that a few cigarettes a day represent a minimal risk. But there is no such thing as a safe amount of cigarette smoking. Our data suggest that this is particularly true for female smokers.”

Dr. Soerheim’s research team used the data from a Norwegian study that involved 954 current and ex-smokers that have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is the catchall name for a group of diseases that cause a partial blockage of the airways and are strongly associated with smoking.

Among other results of the study, it found that women who developed the pulmonary disease before the age of sixty had a greater loss of lung function than the men in the same age bracket. The same held true for the women who had smoked for less than twenty years, compared with the men with similarly low exposure to the tobacco.

Why this fact holds true is not known as of now. It could be because women tend to have smaller lungs than men so the smoking does more damage, Soerheim stated.

Dr. Kathy Albain, who is a medical oncologist at the Loyola University Health System and has also studied gender differences with lung cancer, said that there could also be a difference in the way that women and men metabolize the cigarette smoke, based on the genes that they inherit. Hormones, in particular estrogen, are also being looked at to be a possible reason for why the lung cancer acts differently in women than it does in men, she added.

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