What a way to achieve equality

How smart are women? I used to believe they were brighter than men. But cancer rates now show that my assumption is wrong. Why? Lung cancer has surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in women, accounting for one in five deaths.

Men have been dying, often in the prime of life, from smoke-related diseases for years. And for decades, women have struggled to achieve equality with men. What a fatal way to achieve it! Today, we talk a lot about disease prevention, and we must continue to do so. But when you look at the tragedy of lung cancer in women, one truth stands out: women seem much more interested in a cure for lung cancer than trying to prevent this disease.

"Why don’t you get your priorities straight?" I impatiently asked a patient, an intelligent businesswoman. She was worried about the hazards of oral contraceptives as well as her family history of heart disease. And she wanted to know the results of all blood cholesterol tests. Yet, at the same time, she admitted to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day!

There is no good cancer. But some are worse than others. And cancer of the lung is one of the most malignant. Eighty per cent of wen who contract this disease are dead within five years. Women who smoke share the same risk as men when it comes to suffering from coronary heart disease, stroke and chronic obstructive lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

But women smokers often forget that they face gender-specific health problems. They experience greater trouble getting pregnant as well as an increased risk of complications during pregnancy. Studies also show that women smokers have an increased risk of cervical cancer, osteoporosis and earlier menopause. Women who smoke while taking oral contraceptives also face an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular complications.

We know tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including more than 40 known to cause cancer in humans. Recent evidence indicates that women are genetically more vulnerable than men to the carcinogenic effects of tobacco. As well, it can hurt those around you. Smoking by pregnant women has been linked to increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome and increased respiratory and middle ear symptoms in young children.

Obviously, quitting produces huge health benefits. What’s more, these benefits begin almost immediately after the last cigarette. After 20 minutes, blood pressure and heart rate decrease to normal. Eight hours later, carbon monoxide levels in the blood drop and oxygen levels increase to normal. A day later, the risk of a heart attack decreases. And after one smoke-free year, the chance of a heart attack drops by 50 per cent and continues to decline. In fact, those who quit will find that their risk of heart disease and stroke is eventually reduced to equal that faced by people who have never smoked. Ten years after quitting, the risk of dying from lung cancer is cut in half.

After 15 years of being smoke-free, the risk nearly equals that of a person who has never smoked. But how to quit is the $64 million question. Like an alcoholic, the smoker must genuinely want to quit. Quitting "cold turkey" works only about five per cent of the time. Some are helped by hypnosis, acupuncture and laser treatment but the effectiveness of these procedures is debatable. Nicotine patches, such as Habitrol, Nicotrol and Nicoderm have had reasonable success in helping smokers to quit. But, at the end of one year, the success rate falls to around 12 per cent.

Zyban is the newest medication available. Unlike the nicotine patch, Zyban is a nicotine-free pill and works in a different way. Studies show that Zyban is twice as effective as the nicotine patch. Nicotine triggers the "nicotine rush" which stimulates the release of dopamine and noradrenaline – chemicals which cause smokers to become physically addicted to nicotine. When smokers quit, dopamine levels drop and noradrenaline activity is altered, causing a psychological craving for cigarettes and symptoms such as anxiety and irritability.

Zyban is a promising addition to help smokers quit the habit. Experts believe that it restores the level of dopomine and affects noradrenaline activity in the smoker. This action minimizes cravings and withdrawal symptoms associated with nicotine additions.

But will this new treatment help us get our priorities straight at last?