Smokeout 2020: Reducing Lung Cancer Risk Via Quitting and Screenings

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November 19, 2020


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The rates of cigarette smoking have substantially declined over the past several decades — from 42 percent in 1965 to 13.7 percent in 2019, but the gains have been inconsistent, says the America Cancer Society (ACS).

“Some groups smoke more heavily or at higher rates and suffer disproportionately from smoking-related cancer and other diseases,” states the ACS. Moreover, recent studies have indicated that smokers are more susceptible to COVID-19 infection and severe illness from the coronavirus.

Today marks the Great American Smokeout 2020, an annual campaign sponsored by the ACS. It is held on the third Thursday of November and usually features community events across the nation that encourage Americans to quit tobacco smoking. This year, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the anti-smoking events are mostly online.

The goal of the Smokeout campaign, however, remains the same: Get as many of the 32.4 million U.S. adults who still smoke cigarettes to quit.

Smoking remains the single largest preventable cause of death and illness in the world. Smoking causes an estimated 480,000 deaths every year, or about 1 in 5 deaths. And more than 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease. More than 80 percent of lung cancer cases are tied to smoking. And lung cancer is leading cause of cancer deaths among both women and men.

In recent years, e-cigarettes or vaping devices are increasingly being used by teenagers and young adults. These e-cigs can increase the potency of nicotine, one of the most addictive chemicals, delivered to the lungs of the user. The possible link between vaping products and cancer has yet to be established because e-cigarettes have been on the market for just a few years.

“The nicotine addiction is one of the strongest addictions that we know in pharmacology,” explains Javier Pérez-Fernández, M.D., pulmonologist and critical care director at Baptist Hospital of Miami. “The second aspect is the toxicity that’s caused by the smoking inhalation and the byproducts delivered through the smoking. There are as many as 6,000 different chemical toxins that are included in the smoke that is eliminated by a cigarette. And for those who believe that vaping is different … well it’s certainly not. We already know that (e-cigarettes) also produce significant number of toxic elements.”

E-cigarettes are still fairly new, and more research is needed over a longer period of time to know what the long-term effects may be, the ACS says. However, all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, can pose serious health risks to the user. For example, e-cigs or vaping devices can irritate the lungs in the short-term, and can have negative effects on the heart.

Screening Tests for Smokers, Ex-Smokers

The only recommended screening test for lung cancer is low-dose computer tomography (also called a low-dose CT scan, or LDCT). Such a test involves an X-ray machine that scans the body and uses low doses of radiation to make detailed pictures of the lungs.

“Historically, the majority of patients that were diagnosed with lung cancer in the U.S. were at Stage Three and Four,” said Mark Dylewski, M.D., chief of general thoracic surgery at Miami Cancer Institute. “That used to be about 60 to 70 percent of patients, and that is changing with the implementation of screening with CT scans. And we’re catching more and more patients in the earlier stages — Stage One and Stage Two — where surgery can have an impact at curing those patients.”

In 2013, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommended cancer screening with LDCT for people who—

  • Have a history of heavy smoking (average of one pack of cigarettes per day), and
  • Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and
  • Are between 55 and 80 years old.

How Quitting Smoking Improves Your Health

The benefits of quitting smoking is almost immediate and increases over time. It’s never too late to quit using tobacco, according to the ACS and the CDC. The sooner you quit, the more you can reduce your chances of getting cancer and other diseases.

How does the average smoker’s body recover over time after quitting? The American Cancer Society says that after…

20 minutes:
Your heart rate and blood pressure start to drop.

12 hours:
The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.

2 weeks to 3 months:
Your circulation improves, while your lung function increases.

1 to 9 months:
Coughing and shortness of breath decrease. Your lungs start to regain normal functionality, increasing their ability to fight infection.

1 year:
The excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a continuing smoker’s.

5 years:
Risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder are cut in half. Cervical cancer risk falls to that of a non-smoker. Stroke risk can fall to that of a non-smoker after 2 to 5 years.

10 years:
The risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking. The risk of cancer of the larynx (voice box) and pancreas decreases.

15 years:
The risk of coronary heart disease is that of a non-smoker’s.

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