Cancer, Ulcers, Alcoholism, Crime

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Cancer, Ulcers, Alcoholism, Crime

The very nature of being a female has changed dramatically over the past seven or eight decades, with disastrous heath consequences. Cancer of the lung was almost unheard of in women at the turn of the century. However, as they increasingly began to emulate men, female smoking started m become socially acceptable. Subsequently, the movies and magazine advertisements showed sophisticated and attractive females, with their elegant cigarette holders, presumably to reduce distasteful nicotine breath. This elevated cigarette smoking to a stylish status symbol that was not only acceptable behavior in public, but something that was desirable.

We are now starting to pay the price for this. Between 1960 and 1990, lung cancer deaths in women increased 400%. It is not generally appreciated thin for the past 10 years, this has exceeded mortality from cancer of the breast. The American Cancer Society estimated that 64,300 women died from lung cancer in 1994, compared to 44,300 from breast malignancies. Women who smoke increase their changes of dying from lung cancer nearly 12 from bronchitis and emphysema 10 times, and have triple the death rates due to heart disease. Many people smoke because they are under stress, and since working women tend to inhale more, their risk for smoking related deaths is likely to be even greater. Curently more teenage girls smoke than boys, possibly because they believe this will help them from gaining weight. There has also been a recent sharp rise in female cigar smokers. Cigars have much more nicotine than cigarettes, but are generally not inhaled, so that lung cancer rates are not markedly increased. However, most female cigar afficionados are cigarette smokers, and rand to inhale, which could put them at greater risk.

In an effort to accommodate their work demands, most working women tend to marry and have children later in life. Many never become pregnant at all, and it seems quite likely that this may put them at greater risk for both breast malignancies and cancer of the ovary. It has been well established that the earlier a woman has her first child, or even becomes pregnant, the less likely she will be to develop cancer of the breast.

This protective effect of pregnancy is thought to be related to a reduction in prolactin, a pituitary hormone that stimulates breast tissue growth, and promotes breast cancer in experimental animals. This may partially explain the current increase in breast malignancies, since the percentage of women having their first child over the age of 35 has quintupled since 1970. Single career women also have fourteen times more deadly ovarian cancer, compared to a matched group of homemakers. A recent large scale study of femme lawyers similarly showed a significant association between higher levels of job stress, and an increased incidence of miscarriage and spontaneous abortion, which would also diminish the protective effect of pregnancy.

We tend to think of ulcers as usually occuring in men, especially those who are constantly tense, worried, anxious, or angry. However, that was not the case in the last century, when women were repressed and subjected to rigorous, demanding, and often unappreciated domestic duties. In the Victorian era, it is quite clear that ulcers were primarily a femme affliction. Indeed, seven out of every eight ulcers occurred in women. As mechanical and electrical appliances began to make life easier, this ratio changed dramatically, and by the middle of this century, nine out of ten ulcer patients were male. The pendulum is now swinging back in the other direction, as women are increasingly subjected to highly competitive and frustrating professional and social demands.

At the turn of the century, serious alcoholism was rarely seen in women. It is estimated that more than one out of every three problem drinkers is now female, compared to one out of six only two decades ago. In addition, working wives were significantly more likely to be chronic alcoholics than housewives or single employees. Many female executives reported that in order to compete with male counterparts, it was necessary to "go out and drink with the boys" to attract clients, a practice often encouraged by an expense account to subsidize this activity. Substance abuse and incarceration in prison were relatively rare in females decades ago. There are now 75,000 women confined to State and Federal facilities for criminal activities, or six percent of the total prison population.

The American Institute of Stress.

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