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You may not think of lung disease as a women’s health concern, but here’s why you should.

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When many women think of the biggest risks to their health, they often think of diseases like breast or ovarian cancer. Or they may worry about getting osteoporosis or dementia. Some women are concerned about health conditions they may be more at risk for due to family history. But the one thing many women don’t put at the top of their list when it comes to maintaining their health is their lungs.

But they should. Here’s why.

Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer death in women. It takes more lives than breast, ovarian and uterine cancers combined. In the U.S., one woman is diagnosed with lung cancer every 5 minutes, and one woman dies from the disease every 7 ½ minutes. And while lung cancer rates have been falling among men over the last few decades, they have been increasing in women. Additionally, younger women are getting lung cancer more often than younger men, although the cause of this is unknown.

Asthma, COPD and other lung diseases

In addition to lung cancer, other disorders affecting the lungs are on the rise for women, including asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and COPD. Women are more likely to have asthma than men and are more likely to die from it, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Women are also twice as likely to be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis as men. Rates of emphysema have increased in women in recent years but have decreased in men. And more women have died from COPD every year than men since 2000.

It is not known exactly why women are experiencing increasing rates of lung disease as rates in men for similar diseases are declining. One theory is that some causes of lung disease, like cigarette smoke and air pollution, may be more damaging to the lungs of women than men.

“The best way to reduce your risk of lung cancer is to not smoke.  If you are a smoker and want to quit but are having difficulty, contact your primary care physician to discuss ways to help you achieve this goal.” 

-Wesley J. Penn, Internal Medicine

Lowering lung disease risk

Although you can’t eliminate all risk factors for lung disease and lung cancer, there are some things you can control. Here are 7 tips for lowering your risk:

    1. Don’t smoke. If you currently smoke, the sooner you quit, the better. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. This is the number one thing you can do to improve your lung health.
    2. Avoid secondhand smoke. Although second-hand smoke is likely not as damaging as the smoke you directly inhale if you’re the smoker, it can still damage your lungs. So avoid being near other people who smoke.
    3. Avoid asbestos, radon, chemicals and fumes. The less exposure you have to these lung irritants, the better.
    4. Avoid outdoor air pollution. Air quality can vary from day to day and place to place. Skip exercising outdoors and keep windows closed on bad air days.
    5. Avoid illness. Your lungs are affected when you have a cough, bronchitis, pneumonia or COVID-19. Get vaccinated against flu each year and get a COVID-19 vaccine. Your doctor may also recommend a pneumonia vaccine. Stay away from crowds, wear a mask and wash your hands often.
    6. Follow healthy lifestyle habits. Being physically active keeps your lungs stronger and functioning properly. Some studies show that antioxidants in vegetables and fruit may lower the risk for lung cancer.
    7. Don’t ignore symptoms. If you notice any symptoms of lung disease, such as chronic coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, get them checked out by a doctor.

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Date Last Reviewed: March 17, 2021

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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