The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Smoke alarm for city women

Calcutta, Feb. 11: Anamika Banerjee (name changed) used to puff her work pressures away, as she spent night after night in office.

A few years on, she began coughing continuously, even spitting blood on occasions, but the corporate executive ignored it and held on to her cigarette.

Recently, she felt a pain in her chest with blood streaming out of her mouth more regularly. Anamika visited her physician, who referred her to an oncologist. She was diagnosed with lung cancer.

With more and more women taking to tobacco, the city is witnessing a spurt in cases of lung cancer ' around 6 per cent, according to a recent study.

An increasing number of women are also falling victim to oral and urinary bladder cancer and cardiac and respiratory diseases because of smoking ' both active and passive.

'Work pressure and tension have given rise to the smoking habit in women and, consequently, cases of lung cancer among them,' said Jaydip Biswas, who heads the surgical and medical oncology departments at the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute.

Earlier, lung cancer used to be detected mainly in men above 60. 'The rise of lung and oral cancers among the younger generation and among women is alarming,' said city-based surgical oncologist Gautam Mukherjee.

'Also, the trend of smoking habits among college-going girls is increasing,' said Biswas.

According to reports, nearly 10 per cent of the city's women smoke and 30 per cent among them are teenagers.

Doctors say working women are most prone to passive smoking.

In lung cancer cases, the percentage of death is higher than breast cancer, the most common affliction among women. Although 23 per cent of women patients suffer from breast cancer, the death rate is 16 per cent. Compared to this, the lung cancer fatality rate is 25 per cent.

Studies reveal that 83 per cent of lung cancer cases are caused by active smoking and the rest by passive smoking, doctors at the Chittaranjan institute said.

'Passive smoking is more dangerous as it goes inside the body unfiltered,' a doctor said.

Not only women, rising instances of lung cancer among teenagers in the city have doctors pressing the panic button.

At the Chittaranjan institute, three teenagers were diagnosed with lung cancer in the last few months.

Smoking affects the urinary bladder, too, doctors cautioned. 'The smoke inhaled is circulated through blood vessels and affects the kidney and urinary bladder. Now we are getting more female patients with cancer in the urinary bladder than before,' a doctor said.

Leukoplatia ' white patches in the oral cavity, again caused by smoking ' is a pre-cancerous stage that can turn deadly in a short span of time, said Mukherjee

Instances of city women with cardiac ailments have shot up as well, and doctors say tobacco is one of the culprits.

'Diabetes and smoking are the main factors for the rise in cardiac problems in the city,' said Kunal Sarkar, a surgeon at the Rabindranath Tagore Institute of Cardiac Sciences.

'The risk of cardiac arrest for diabetes patients who smoke becomes 20 times more than a normal patient,' he added.

Like in the case of cancer, the age-group suffering from cardiac problems has dropped drastically. 'Now women in their early 30s have cardiac ailments, and smoking in both active and passive forms are primarily responsible,' Sarkar said.

Children whose mothers are regular smokers are also vulnerable to heart ailments and respiratory distress.

The threat is, perhaps, the gravest for mothers-to-be as smoking during pregnancy may result in a stillborn or premature baby.

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