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November 15, 2006
Lung Association Report shows COPD is a crucial women's health issue
Women & COPD: A National Report calls for increased awareness, screening and advocacy

A groundbreaking report released today by the Canadian Lung Association shows that Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) has emerged as a "crucial women's health issue." 

More than 425,000 women in Canada have been diagnosed with this devastating breathing disease, and more than 4,300 die every year, according to the most recent statistics in the report. More so the report indicates that appropriate screening for the disease is unacceptably low.

"Canadians need to recognize that the face of COPD has truly changed and we will be seeing more and more women living with and dying from this disease," said Dr. Anna Day, Director Gender Asthma and COPD Program at Women's College Hospital in Toronto, who consulted for the Report on behalf of the Canadian Thoracic Society.

The statistics on women and COPD paint a disturbing picture:

  • In 2005, 425,300 Canadian women 35 years of age or over self reported a diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (1)
  • In 2003, 4,383 women died from COPD in Canada (2).  As a comparison, in 2003, 5,060 women died of breast cancer (3)
  • COPD affects 4.8 per cent of women, 3.9 per cent of men (4)

While screening such as mammography, pap tests or bone density testing have become routinely standard for other diseases, the report demonstrates that appropriate screening for COPD is "unacceptably low." Spirometry, a simple breathing test, is essential for the diagnosis of COPD and individuals at risk for COPD can receive an early diagnosis through appropriate spirometry testing.

The Report, developed by the Canadian Lung Association in collaboration with its medical and health professional groups, the Canadian Thoracic Society and Canadian Respiratory Health Professionals, is being launched on World COPD Day across Canada today.

"We need to keep up the pressure to raise awareness of this terrible disease and advocate for all people with COPD, especially women," said Nora Sobolov, President and CEO of the Lung Association. "We can't continue to be polite about COPD."

In the Report, The Lung Association issued a call to action in three areas:

1. Recognition: Canadians must recognize that COPD has emerged as a crucial women's health issue. Over 425,000 women are diagnosed; more than 4,300 women die every year.

2. Better screening for women at risk: Spirometry, a simple breathing test, must be as routinely used for women at risk for COPD as other major disease screening tests (such as mammography, pap tests or bone density tests).

3. Advocacy: Patients and healthcare providers must advocate for early diagnosis and optimized management of COPD to reduce illness and suffering.

Women More at Risk

"Research has shown that the effects of smoking seem to have a greater impact on women's lung health," said Dr. Denis O'Donnell, Professor of Medicine from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, "perhaps due to smaller lung capacity, airways and ventilatory muscle mass, women report worse symptoms for similar severity of COPD."

  • Women use a higher fraction of their lung capacity, resulting in increased effort and shortness of breath
  • Older women more frequently report breathlessness as the number one reason to restrict physical activity
  • Since 2000, female mortality due to COPD has risen at double the rate of breast cancer (nine per cent compared to four per cent). In the same time period female mortality due to stroke has decreased by 2.7 per cent.

About COPD
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a respiratory disease that causes the airways of the lung to be inflamed and become "obstructed" or blocked.  The two major forms of the disease include chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

  • The main symptoms experienced by patients with COPD are shortness of breath and limitation of activity. 
  • Symptoms are usually insidious at onset, progressive and characterized by frequent flare-ups.
  • COPD is primarily caused by smoking.  A small percentage of COPD patients have the disease for other reasons. 

Almost half of all Canadians (45 per cent) have at one time or another been a smoker, including 20 per cent who are current smokers (according to 2006 Leger research).

COPD awareness still very low
In consumer research conducted by Leger Marketing, awareness among Canadians about COPD continues to be low. Fewer than half have heard of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (46 per cent), and only 13 per cent have heard of COPD. This, for a disease that is the fourth leading cause of death in Canada.

The majority of Canadians are aware of electrocardiograms (89 per cent) and mammography (68 per cent). More than a quarter of Canadians have heard of a densitometry test (28 per cent). In contrast, just one in 10 Canadians have heard of spirometry (10 per cent).

About the Report
Women & COPD: A National Report is a groundbreaking, collaborative initiative conducted by The Lung Association, the Canadian Thoracic Society and the Canadian Respiratory Health Professionals and supported through an unrestricted educational grant from Boehringer Ingelheim Canada Ltd. and Pfizer Canada Inc.

The Lung Association
For more than 100 years, The Lung Association has been the voice and primary resource for lung health in Canada. The Lung Association was first established to control the spread of tuberculosis and provide better services for tuberculosis patients. Today, we lead national and international initiatives that improve lung health through research, prevention, and education.

The work of The Lung Association is made possible through the generous support of Canadians. Our main source of funding is the Christmas Seal campaign currently under way across the country.

Canadian Thoracic Society
The Canadian Thoracic Society (CTS) is the medical section of The Canadian Lung Association. It advises the Association on scientific matters and programs, including policies regarding support for research and professional education. The CTS provides a forum whereby medical practitioners and investigators may join in the study of lung diseases that may come within the scope of The Lung Association.

The CTS aims to maintain the highest professional and scientific standards in all aspects of respiratory diseases through leadership, education, research and communication.

Canadian Respiratory Health Professionals
The Canadian Respiratory Health Professionals (CRHP) is a multidisciplinary group of health professionals which includes nurses, physical therapists, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and other professionals devoted to promoting a high quality of respiratory care by advancing respiratory education, practice and research. CRHP advises the Lung Association on scientific programs, research, professional and public education. 

The complete Women & COPD: A National Report (PDF)

Graphical presentation on Women & COPD: A National Report (PDF)

Video clip on women & COPD

Learn more about COPD

Backgrounder on COPD (Word)


For more information please contact:
Lindsay Deefholts
Fleishman-Hillard Canada
(416) 645-3682

Nicholas Schulz
Fleishman-Hillard Canada
(416) 598-5799


1. Public Health Agency of Canada using data from Statistics Canada, Canadian Community Health Survey, 2005.
2. Statistics Canada. Canadian Vital Statistics, Death Database
3. Statistics Canada. Canadian Vital Statistics, Death Database
4. Public Health Agency of Canada using data from Statistics Canada, Canadian Community Health Survey, 2005.