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Last Updated: Monday, 12 September 2005, 23:42 GMT 00:42 UK
Women 'unaware of lung disease'
Wendy Dawber - copyright British Lung Foundation
Wendy Dawber says she cannot believe she has 'this awful disease'
Many women are unaware of the dangers of a chronic lung disease which kills nearly as many British females as breast cancer, campaigners have warned.

The British Lung Foundation says rates of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are soaring and it may soon be the fourth biggest killer of women.

But only 1% of 1,200 women surveyed said COPD is their main health worry.

Women feared breast cancer most and 27% wrongly thought it - rather than heart disease - killed most women in Britain.

There was little more awareness about COPD among smokers who were questioned as part of the survey by the BLF.

Their habit puts them at 13-times greater risk of the condition - an umbrella term for lung conditions including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, which cause severe breathlessness and coughing.

Exposure to second-hand smoke and dust or fumes can also cause the disease. It can also, rarely, be a genetic condition.

Male rates plateau

COPD kills around 12,000 women a year.

Heart disease
Lung cancer
Breast cancer

But the BLF survey found only 15% put it in their top five of worrying conditions, despite it killing more than ovarian and cervical cancers combined.

Women feared breast cancer the most, and 27% of them wrongly ranked it as Britain's biggest female killer - a position which is actually held by heart disease.

The BLF also say that there is a gender difference.

While COPD rates in men have reached a plateau, women are more susceptible to the condition, perhaps because their lungs have smaller airways, it says.

As over a quarter of all British women now smoke - more than in other European countries, including France - and smoking rates are on the increase among younger women, the BLF says COPD will become an even greater problem in the years ahead.

'Invisible killer'

One sufferer, Wendy Dawber, was recently diagnosed with COPD at just 38.

She said: "I just can't believe that I've got this awful disease in my 30s.

"When I was a teenager I used to think it was cool to smoke. It's anything but cool to be 38 and be diagnosed with COPD.

"All I want is to be able to live a normal life with my family but that can't happen now."

She added: "If telling my story makes just one woman stop and think before smoking another cigarette, then it has all been worth it."

Dame Helena Shovelton, chief executive of the BLF, said: "This campaign gives a voice to the thousands of UK women of all ages living with COPD - including young mums like Wendy who are struggling to cope with the debilitating symptoms and flare-ups the condition causes.

"COPD seems invisible as a major killer but it takes the lives of many more women than other more widely discussed dangers.

"It is essential that we dramatically increase women's understanding of how the disease can be prevented and managed effectively if we are to avoid thousands of unnecessary deaths."



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