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From OncoLog, November-December 2013, Vol. 58, Nos. 11-12

Health Benefits of Quitting Smoking
It’s never too late to quit, but sooner is better

Graphic: House CallBy now, everyone knows that smoking is dangerous. But fewer people are aware that quitting smoking can significantly improve your health, no matter how old you are or how long you’ve smoked.

Hazards of smoking

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking is responsible for almost one in every five deaths and causes the premature deaths of more than 440,000 people each year in the United States. The CDC estimates that adult male smokers lose an average of 13.2 years of life because of smoking and that female smokers lose 14.5 years.

Smoking is a leading cause of many cancers, including cancers of the lung, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, pancreas, stomach, and cervix.

Smoking also can cause heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (chronic bronchitis and emphysema), and asthma. In addition, smokers have higher risks than nonsmokers of hip fractures and cataracts.

Finally, pregnant women who smoke are more likely to miscarry or have babies with low birth weights. Babies with low birth weights are more likely to die as infants or have physical and learning problems.

Benefits of stopping

The good news is that quitting smoking has immediate positive health effects for smokers of any age, and these benefits may apply even to people who already suffer from smoking-related diseases. You experience some of these effects the first day you quit.

Your heart rate and blood pressure, which increase when you smoke, return to their normal levels after 20 minutes without smoking. Within 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

Photo: Putting out cigarette
Soon you are likely to notice that food tastes better, your sense of smell is returning to normal, and physical activities that once left you out of breath, such as climbing stairs or housework, no longer bother you.

Quitting smoking has positive effects on your appearance as well. Stained teeth get whiter, and the yellow tinge to your fingers and fingernails disappears. Also, the bad smell on your clothes and hair is no longer there.

As you continue to forgo smoking, the benefits to your health keep expanding. Within 2–3 months of quitting, your circulation improves, and your lung function increases. Your risk of having a heart attack begins to drop.

Women who stop smoking before pregnancy or during the first 4 months of their pregnancy reduce their risk of having a baby with low birth weight to the level of women who never smoked.

Your coughing decreases 1–9 months after you quit. Cilia, the tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of the lungs, start to regain normal function, which cleans the lungs and reduces the risk of infection.

One year after you stop smoking, your risk of coronary heart disease is still higher than that of someone who never smoked, but the added risk is half that of someone who still smokes. Five years after quitting, your risks of cancer of the mouth, throat, and bladder are cut in half. Cervical cancer risk becomes the same as that of a lifelong nonsmoker 5 years after quitting. The risk of having a stroke is the same as a lifelong nonsmoker’s after only 2–5 tobacco-free years.

By 10 years, giving up tobacco has decreased your risk of cancers of the larynx (voice box) and pancreas. Your risk of dying from lung cancer is now about half that of a person who still smokes. At 15 years, your risk of coronary heart disease is the same as a lifelong nonsmoker’s.

No matter what age you stop smoking, there are health benefits. According to studies, smokers who quit around 30 years of age reduce their chances of dying prematurely from smoking-related diseases by more than 90% compared with people who continue to smoke. Smokers who quit when they are 50 years old reduce their risk of premature death by 50% compared with those who still smoke. Smokers who quit when they are 60 years or older also live longer than people the same age who continue to smoke.

If you smoke, quitting smoking is the single most important step you can take to improve your health and increase your chance of living a long, healthy life.

— K. Stuyck

For more information, talk to your physician, visit www.mdanderson.org, visit the CDC at www.cdc.gov/tobacco, call askMDAnderson at 877-632-6789, or call MD Anderson’s Tobacco Treatment Program at 713-792-7848 or 866-245-0862.

Other articles in OncoLog, November-December 2013 issue:

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