Feature Archive

Why Cigarettes are a Woman's Worst Enemy

Here are some compelling reasons to quit smoking.

By Peg Rosen
WebMD Feature Sure, cigarettes can harm anybody, men and women alike. But some of smoking's ill effects, from ectopic pregnancy to premature menopause, are reserved for women only. This November 19 is the American Cancer Society's 22nd Great American Smokeout. If you haven?t decided to give up smoking yet, here are some compelling reasons to quit now.

Smoking Increases Your Risk of Cervical and Rectal Cancer

Not only can smoking cause a variety of cancers in both men and women, it puts women at higher risk of cervical cancer, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). A Danish study published in the April 21, 1999 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer finds that premenopausal women who smoke are six times more likely to develop rectal cancer than those who don't.

Smoking Worsens Your Period

According to the ACOG, women who smoke experience more severe premenstrual symptoms and have a 50 percent increase in cramps lasting two or more days.

Smoking Damages Your Fertility

Smoking affects practically every phase of conception, according to Vicki Seltzer, M.D., vice president for women?s health services at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York. "Smokers have a greater risk of not ovulating, and it is also less likely that a fertilized egg will implant in the uterus. Smokers who receive in vitro fertilization are less likely to be successful." Seltzer also notes that nicotine interferes with the function of the fallopian tube and can hinder an egg from traveling normally to the uterus, which can lead to an ectopic or tubal pregnancy -- potentially life-threatening conditions.

Smoking Hurts Your Unborn Baby

"When you smoke during pregnancy, you poison the fetus," says Benjamin Sachs, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Harvard Medical School. "Carbon monoxide has a greater affinity for fetal tissue than for adult tissue, and when nicotine crosses the placenta it speeds up the [baby?s] heart rate."

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