Specialized Programs Aim to Improve Diagnosis and Treatment of Lung Disease in Women

By Joanna J. Beros, MD

Lung diseases, such as COPD or lung cancer, often are not seen as women’s health issues. Yet American women are now more likely to die from COPD than from breast cancer, and lung cancer is the number-one cancer killer of women. Some larger lung centers, including the Temple Lung Center, have recognized a special need and introduced programs focused on the comprehensive diagnosis and treatment of lung disease in women.

The overall incidence of COPD is rising faster in women than in men. While we are seeing a decline in COPD mortality, this change is also happening at a slower rate among women. Lung cancer shows similar trends, with mortality rates in men declining while those in women continue to go up. These changes are mostly a reflection of how women’s smoking rates increased to match those in men after World War II. However, second-hand smoke exposure in adulthood also may pose a hazard to women’s lung health: women from areas that depend on biomass fuel for cooking and heating the home are at greater risk for developing these diseases.

In general, studies show that women are more vulnerable to the effects of cigarette smoke compared with men—for the same amount of smoking exposure, women show a greater rate of decline in lung function. Despite this, physicians may fail to diagnose COPD in women. Several studies show that even with significant smoking histories, women with COPD symptoms are more likely to receive an incorrect asthma diagnosis than they are to be correctly diagnosed with COPD. Women who do receive a COPD diagnosis tend to demonstrate higher levels of anxiety, depression and shortness of breath, and reduced exercise capacity, compared with men who have the same level of lung function decline. They also deal with higher rates of osteoporosis compared with men. Correct diagnosis is essential in order to better treat these associated conditions.

At Temple Lung Center, the Women’s Lung Disease Program takes a comprehensive approach to the management of women’s lung diseases, concentrating on the early screening and diagnosis of lung disease and its complications. Dedicated clinics help with smoking cessation and the program provides multidisciplinary care, with on-site specialists such as endocrinologists, sleep specialists, thoracic surgeons, rheumatologists, nutritionists, and respiratory therapists.

Severe lung disease is difficult for any patient; with its Women’s Lung Disease Program, the Temple Lung Center hopes to reduce the extra hurdles faced by women by providing accurate and timely diagnosis and a broad spectrum of care. To refer a patient to our Women’s Lung Disease Program, please call 215-707-5555.