Smokeout 2023: What Smokers Need to Know About Lung Cancer and the Benefits of Quitting Now
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Baptist Health Cancer Care
The percentage of U.S. adults who smoke cigarettes is at an historic low – about 11 percent. But about 30 million Americans still smoke cigarettes and many more millions of adults are former smokers who are at a higher risk for lung cancer – the No. 1 cancer killer.
Additionally, an estimated 6 million young adults use smokeless tobacco products (e-cigarettes). Experts say e-cigs, or “vaping” devices, can cause serious health issues in the short-term, and a still undetermined degree of harm in the long-term as research trials are in early stages. The National Institutes of Health states that vaping products may contain known carcinogens and toxic chemicals.
Because most e-cigarettes contain nicotine, the addictive substance in all tobacco products, many young people are enticed to smoke traditional cigarettes.
The third Thursday of November is designated as The Great American Smokeout, an annual campaign sponsored by the American Cancer Society. It features community events across the nation to encourage Americans to quit smoking and consult with their physician about getting screened for lung cancer.
The American Lung Association released its 2023 “State of Lung Cancer” report this week, finding that the rate of lung cancer screening in Florida “is far too low at 2.4 percent, compared to the national average of 4.5 percent.” Overall, lung cancer survival rates have increased over the past five years, but serious disparities remain among Black and Hispanic/Latino communities in Florida and across the nation, the report finds.
Smoking tobacco remains the single largest preventable cause of death and illness in the world. Tobacco smoke is made up of thousands of chemicals, including at least 70 known to cause cancer, states the American Cancer Society. Smoking causes an estimated 480,000 deaths every year, or about 1 in 5 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is, by far, the single, largest cause of lung cancer.
“Smoking is one of the worst things that you could ever put in your body,” said Mark Dylewski, M.D., chief of general thoracic surgery at Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute. “It's not just lung cancer that it causes. Smoking is responsible for the majority of healthcare issues. It's actually a top factor that's costing this country a fortune in treating patients for heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, kidney cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer and gastrointestinal (GI) cancers.”
Surgeons who treat smokers or ex-smokers, such as Dr. Dylewski and John R. Roberts, M.D., thoracic surgeon at Lynn Cancer Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, part of Baptist Health Cancer Care, do not mince words when it comes to smoking.
“If you want to smoke, you ought to consider that you're likely going to reduce your long-term survival by more than 20 years, if you smoke 20 years or more,” said Dr. Dylewski.
Anyone who smokes should ask their doctor about smoking cessation programs, and all smokers and ex-smokers should seriously consider a lung cancer screening -- a low-dose CT scan, or LDCT. The U.S. screening guidelines urge LDCT scans for people aged 50 to 80 years old who smoke or formerly smoked, and have a 20-year history of heavy smoking (average of one pack of cigarettes per day).
“This is a good time to remind anyone who smokes that quitting now can start lowering their risk of cancer and other chronic diseases,” explains Dr. Roberts. “They should not hesitate to consult with their doctor if they have any questions about screenings or any other health concern. But when it comes to the risk of lung cancer, waiting to quit is not a good option.”
Cancer specialists emphasize that vaping products can easily sway young adults to use traditional tobacco products.
“You can become more addicted to nicotine on a vape product than you do on combustible cigarettes,” explains Dr. Dylewski. “And young people need to realize this because one puff on a vape is equivalent to five puffs on a combustible cigarette and they get very addicted very quickly. Then they start utilizing combustible cigarettes more frequently.”
How Quitting Smoking Improves Your Health
The benefits of quitting smoking are 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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