In a paper published in the June 2004 issue of Clinics in Chest Medicine, U of T medical professor Kenneth R. Chapman says women may be more predisposed to develop COPD, a permanent narrowing of the breathing tubes, because of their smaller airway size. They also develop emphysema or other types of COPD at an earlier age than men and experience a greater degree of lung damage than men do from smoking the same number of cigarettes.
"The data have been there for some time, but nobody picks it up and talks about it," says Chapman, who is also a physician in the Asthma and Airway Centre at Toronto Western Hospital. "It's astonishing how little research and fundraising energy is devoted to COPD, compared to breast cancer, given that COPD is expected to end the lives of more women this year in Canada."
COPD is the only common cause of death that continues to increase in prevalence in North America, adds Chapman. Although tobacco use is declining, COPD rates continue to grow because tobacco-induced lung damage is largely irreversible.
"By 2010, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease will be the third most common cause of death around the world and women will suffer from it twice as often as men," says Chapman. At present, Canadian data show that 3.6 per cent of women 35 or older suffer from COPD, compared with 2.8 per cent of men. Chapman's typical patient with COPD was once an elderly male. Today, it is a middle-aged woman.