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How Smoking Cessation Can Reduce Your Cancer Risk


Quitting is hard. Never feel guilty or discouraged as you work to stop smoking or using tobacco. It’s a true addiction that afflicts people around the world. We know how difficult it’s to stop, but we also know how worthwhile it is.

Tobacco use – smoking and chewing tobacco – harms nearly every bodily organ and organ system and increases your risk of dying from cancer by 36%. There are 250 known harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke, and at least 69 of those can cause cancer, like arsenic and formaldehyde.

We discussed the dangers of smoking with Dr. Rena Szabo, PsyD, CAADC, TTS, MA, Med, director of the psycho-oncology program at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center and asked her to share some of smoking’s greatest dangers.

“Everybody associates smoking with lung cancer but cancers of the esophagus, larynx, pharynx (throat), mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, liver, pancreas, colon, stomach, rectum, cervix, and acute myeloid leukemia (a bone marrow cancer) can all be caused by smoking and tobacco use.”

But if you’ve smoked for years you may have wondered if quitting will even make a difference now. Dr. Szabo, who sees patients at Banner MD Anderson, says absolutely. “It doesn’t matter how long you’ve smoked; if you stop smoking or using any tobacco product you are less likely to die from cancer-related causes.” Dr. Szabo says that after 10 years of being a nonsmoker, your risk of lung cancer decreases 30-50%, compared to a smoker’s risk. Your risk of getting pancreatic cancer is the same as that of a nonsmoker and your risk of throat and esophageal cancers are reduced. After 10 years your risk of death from smoking is reduced by half.

The truth behind e-cigarettes

Many smokers have the misconception that electronic nicotine delivery systems, or e-cigarettes, are safer than traditional cigarettes. This may be true. However, they have not been proven to be safer, and there is no long-term data on the dangers of e-cigarettes. In fact, e-cigarettes contain tobacco and chemicals that can be cancer-inducing and cause damage to your liver, kidneys and nervous system, and increase lung and airway irritation.

“When people switch to e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking, they often keep smoking, albeit maybe less, but then also use e-cigarettes, which increases their overall nicotine intake,” says Dr. Szabo. There is nicotine in these devices and Diacetyl, the chemical that gives flavoring to e-cigarettes and has been shown to cause “popcorn lung” – which constricts the airway passage in the lungs.

“Although we don’t yet have enough longevity research to know the true health outcomes of e-cigarette use, considering they have the same cancer-causing chemicals, plus additional harmful chemicals, we may be looking at more devastating data as time goes by,” says Dr. Szabo.

A proven recovery program

If you’ve tried to quit before, you aren’t alone! The average person attempts to quit smoking 15 times before being successful, according to Dr. Szabo. If you’re a smoker, your relationship to tobacco products is strong. “Quitting is like a divorce; you have to process the loss and grief you feel over ending this relationship.”

Banner MD Anderson’s Tobacco and Nicotine Recovery Program follows the National Comprehensive Cancer Network clinical guidelines, and the program uses a “recovery model” instead of a “cessation model.” The comprehensive, long-term program combines pharmacological therapy (FDA approved nicotine replacement products and FDA approved tobacco cessation pharmacotherapy) and behavioral therapy (treating the behavioral components of the addiction), which can increase the odds of becoming a non-tobacco user by 40%.

Tackling addiction will feel like a daunting challenge, and if you’ve tried to quit before you know that it takes incredible will and motivation. The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. There is nothing more important to you and your loved ones than your health and leaving tobacco and nicotine in the past is one of the more important things you can do.

To enter the Tobacco and Nicotine Recovery Program, you must be referred by a Banner provider, such as an oncologist or your primary care provider. To find a Banner MD Anderson provider, visit our physician directory.

Cancer Wellness Lung Cancer

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