Ontario, Canada - smoking-related illnesses have increased by almost two-thirds in the last decade..

March 28, 2010 - Cases of chronic bronchitis and emphysema — smoking-related illnesses that kill thousands each year — have increased by almost two-thirds in the last decade, according to a first-of-its-kind study by researchers at Ontario’s Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES).

The study, published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, shows that the prevalence of what’s called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) jumped 64.8% between 1996 and 2007 in Ontario. Adjusted for population growth and other demographic changes over time, the relative increase is still a startling 23%.

PAPER: Trends in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Prevalence, Incidence, and Mortality in Ontario, Canada, 1996 to 2007 A Population-Based Study, Andrea S. Gershon, MD, MSc, FRCPC; Chengning Wang, MD, MSc; Andrew S. Wilton, MSc; Roxana Raut, MSc; Teresa To, PhD, Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(6):560-565, ABSTRACT..

The numbers are likely similar across the country, said Dr. Andrea Gershon of ICES. Ontario was studied because statistics kept by that province are complete enough to show historical trends across a large population base. Understanding how widespread COPD is will be is important for both prevention and treatment because the illness is often overlooked, said Gershon, a respirologist. Because it is linked to smoking, it’s sometimes seen as a “blame-the-patient-type disease,” she said. “Even many patients are ashamed of having it and blame themselves.

Dr. Gershon: “I don’t like smoking any more than the next person, I think its an awful, terrible habit; but why should people suffer because they’ve done something that’s been very culturally acceptable and even encouraged in our society — not to mention that so many people with COPD have quit smoking, or get it from second-hand smoke exposure.”

The biggest increases in COPD diagnoses over time have been among women. Smoking became more socially acceptable for females in the 1950s and ’60s, and the results are now showing up in pulmonary disease.

The study contains some hopeful numbers. While actual cases of COPD have gone up, mortality rates are going down as treatment improves for COPD and related sicknesses, such as heart disease, that often worsen the patient’s condition.

“I hope that the message people come away with from this is that COPD is common and places a huge burden on individuals, their families, society and the health-care system, and I’m hoping that this will lead to more attention being brought to the disease,” said Gershon.

“We’re doing a good job but there’s so much more we can do.”

Reference: Study: Huge increase in smoking-related disease by CHRISTINA SPENCER (christina.spencer@sunmedia), Parliamentary Bureau, CNEWS.Canoe.CA, 3/22/2010.