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By Susan J. White
It is absolutely never too late to stop smoking.
Regardless of how long you have smoked or how many times you may have tried to quit, it is always worth the effort to kick the habit for good, suggested Seth Krantz, MD, thoracic surgeon and smoking cessation advocate with NorthShore University HealthSystem, part of NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health.
“There is good evidence that quitting smoking reduces the risk of recurrence, improves treatment efficacy and improves overall survival outcomes for cancer patients,” said Dr. Krantz.
The body begins to recover from the negative impacts of tobacco as soon as people stop using it. According to the American Cancer Society, heart rate and blood pressure drop within an hour of the last cigarette, carbon monoxide levels in blood drop to normal within a few days of quitting, and circulation and lung function increase a few weeks to months later.
Cilia, the tiny, hair-like elements that line the lungs are damaged and eventually destroyed by smoking. Cilia function to keep the lungs clear, moving mucus out of the lungs. As the cilia are less effective at clearing lungs, many smokers develop habitual coughs and are at greater risk not only for lung cancer, but also for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia and other respiratory conditions.
However, starting within one month after quitting smoking, cilia begin to function better, and can continue to heal over the next year, improving the lungs’ ability to clear mucus. Generally, smokers’ cough disappears and risk for respiratory infections diminishes greatly.
The risk for heart attack drops significantly a year to two after quitting.
“At 10 years after quitting smoking, the risk of developing lung cancer is half the rate of those who are still smoking, and at 15 years after quitting it goes down even further,” said Dr. Krantz. Risks for many other cancers including bladder, esophagus, mouth and throat also decline dramatically after quitting smoking.
Risks for stroke and coronary heart disease decline, and according to the American Cancer Society, quitting smoking can add as much as 10 years to your life.
Every new cancer patient at NorthShore’s Kellogg Cancer Center who identifies as a smoker is given a referral to meet with a specially trained tobacco cessation expert.
“We know it’s hard to quit, but just because you couldn’t do it once, doesn’t mean you can’t quit,” said Dr. Krantz, who encourages patients to take full advantage of resources designed to help.
The American Cancer Society and American Lung Association offer resources like quit lines to help people stop using tobacco. Nicotine replacement products like gum or patches can also help, and often the combination of counseling for behavioral modifications and nicotine replacement can lead to success in quitting.
Your primary care physician can assist with medication options for smoking cessation.
“There is a lot of shame around smoking, but just because someone smokes doesn’t mean they deserve to get cancer,” emphasized Dr. Krantz, who hopes people ignore the stigma and pro-actively seek resources to help them quit.
Smoking cessation resources
NorthShore University HealthSystem has been an early advocate for low-dose annual CT scanning for high-risk patients. For more information on lung cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, call 847-570-2112. Learn more.
Learn more about comprehensive lung cancer care at NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center.