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How Quitting Smoking Can Affect Lung Cancer Outcomes

November 06, 2023

When it comes to lung cancer, you might be surprised to learn that quitting smoking not only lowers your risk of developing cancer in the first place but also promotes better treatment outcomes.

It’s a pretty commonly known fact that smoking is a hazard to your health. In fact, it’s the single most preventable cause of death and a contributing factor in the development of many serious health issues.

Lung cancer is one of those health issues. Around 80 to 90% of lung cancer deaths are tied to smoking, making it the most significant risk factor for the disease.

Your best bet is to never start smoking in the first place, but your second best bet is to quit now, even if you’ve already been diagnosed with lung cancer. Read on to learn why.

The Health Benefits of Quitting Smoking
If you’re a smoker, your health will benefit in many ways if you quit. That includes a lower long-term risk of developing lung cancer and other conditions like heart disease, but there are also some benefits that happen more quickly.

Within 20 minutes after you smoke your last cigarette, for example, your heart rate will drop to normal, your blood pressure will start to lower, and your circulation will improve. Twelve hours later, the body’s carbon monoxide level returns to normal, boosting your oxygen levels and improving your ability to breathe easily.

After a month, your lung function will begin to improve. You may experience less coughing and shortness of breath, along with improved endurance during physical activity. Nine months after smoking cessation, your lungs will be stronger and more resistant to infections.

Over time, the big benefits kick in. After 10 years, your risk of developing lung cancer will be half that of a smoker’s. After 15 years, your risk of heart disease equals a non-smoker’s. And after 20 years, your risk of dying from any smoking-related causes drops to the same as a never-smoker’s.

The Benefits of Quitting Smoking After a Lung Cancer Diagnosis
If you’ve been diagnosed with lung cancer, you may wonder why you should even bother to quit smoking. After all, smoking has already contributed to the development of cancer. The pull of nicotine addiction is also strong.

But there’s good reason to work hard to quit the habit. In 2006, parallel research studies pointed toward the importance of smoking cessation as part of lung cancer treatment. One study found that the nicotine in cigarettes stopped common chemotherapy medications from effectively killing cancer cells, while another study found that patients who survived lung cancer and quit smoking were much less likely to develop a second lung cancer.

More recent research confirms these findings and adds to them. Along with interfering with the metabolization of chemotherapy medications, smoking can also cause hypoxia and a diminished immune system. Cancer patients who have hypoxia, which is a lack of oxygen in part or all of the body, may have poorer outcomes from radiation therapy or immunotherapy.

Those who continue smoking after a lung cancer diagnosis are also more likely to experience severe side effects of cancer treatment, including fatigue, nausea, hair loss, toxicity, slowed healing, skin reactions, pain, and inflammation.

Finally, consider the results of a 2022 study that analyzed more than 10,000 patients with lung cancer: Those who quit smoking after being diagnosed with lung cancer had nearly a 30% improvement in overall survival. That’s a good reason to quit, right?

A User’s Guide to Quitting
There are so many benefits to quitting smoking, but quitting an ingrained habit like smoking can be incredibly challenging. You don’t have to do it alone, though.

If you’re being treated for lung cancer, talk with your care team about smoking cessation. They can point you toward helpful resources, including prescription or OTC medications, behavioral therapy, and support groups.

The National Institutes of Health also offers some helpful resources. On their website, you can create a plan for quitting, sign up to receive smoking cessation tips and motivational guidance, find advice about dealing with cravings, and get information about different cessation tools. You can also access these resources by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669).

The smoking cessation process is highly individualized. What works for a friend of yours may not work for you, so it may take some trial and error to find the right solution. 

No matter which technique you try, don’t quit trying to quit! Your health and your lungs will thank you.

Facing a condition that affects your ability to breathe can be scary. Trust the team of experts at West Tennessee Medical Group Pulmonology to get the care you need to feel your best again.