PF Foundation Reminding Smokers of Lifelong Risk of Lung Disease

Marta Figueiredo PhD avatar

by Marta Figueiredo PhD |

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The Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation (PFF) is highlighting for smokers, and ex-smokers, the need to be aware of pulmonary fibrosis (PF) and their higher risk of developing this disease.

It is well-established that tobacco smoke contains many chemicals harmful to health, and its use is linked to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and lung disease.

Prolonged exposure to tobacco smoke is also known to cause irreversible cellular and molecular changes to the airways, with damage that is sustained after quitting.

Global anti-tobacco efforts have helped to reduce the number of smokers worldwide in recent decades. In the U.S., the percentage of adult smokers dropped from 52.0% in 1964 to 13.7% in 2019, according a U.S. Surgeon General report.

Still, an estimated 34.1 million adults in the U.S. are current cigarette smokes, and more than 16 million Americans are estimated to have a smoking-related disease, including PF.

While smoking is one of the main risk factors for PF, an online survey conducted by the PFF in January found  81% of smokers and ex-smokers in the U.S. unfamiliar with this disease, whose symptoms include shortness of breath, a dry, chronic cough, and fatigue.

“Smokers are often aware that tobacco usage can lead to diseases such as lung cancer, COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] and emphysema, among others,” Amy Hajari Case, MD, the foundation’s senior medical advisor of education and awareness, said in a press release. Emphysema, a type of COPD, is characterized by damage to the tiny sacs in the lungs called alveoli.

“As smokers experience chronic symptoms similar those of PF, such as a dry, persistent cough, it is important they discuss PF with their doctors,” Case added.

Only about 10% of smokers or former smokers who participated in the PFF survey indicated that their doctor had talked to them about PF, as did 3% of never-smokers. In total, 2,013 adults participated in the survey.

This lack of engagement is among the reasons PFF is calling attention to the disease, and the risks posed by having or continuing to smoke.

“Remember – it’s never too late to stop smoking,” the foundation stated in the release, emphasizing its benefits in overall health and quality of life for people of all ages.

Information regarding PF’s main symptoms and risk factors, as well as help in connecting with a pulmonologist through the PFF Care Center Network, are available at the foundation’s AboutPF.org website.

Older age (60 or older), genetic factors, environmental and occupational exposures, use of certain medications, and radiation therapy to the chest are also known risk factors of PF.

The PFF survey also highlighted that low awareness of PF was not limited to smokers and ex-smokers, as most (89%) never-smokers in the U.S. were also unaware of disease symptoms.