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If You Smoke, You're at Risk for Lung Cancer

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

As the leading cause of cancer deaths of both men and women in America, lung cancer affects hundreds of thousands of lives every year. It is crucial to learn about the deadly disease as its mortality rate is high; more than half of patients pass away within a year of diagnosis. It is also important to educate children and young adults about the dangers in order to prevent them from using tobacco and vaping products and to remind them to avoid secondhand smoke.

Studies show that smokers who start at an early age have an increased risk for developing lung cancer as adults. About one in five high school students were using e-cigarettes in 2020, meaning that lung cancer should be discussed in schools and households as it is a consequence of early age smoking. There is some good news about lung cancer; more people are surviving the disease compared to past years. According to the Lung Cancer Barometer, there has been a 33% improvement in the five-year survival rate over the past 10 years.

However, more awareness and education about the disease is still needed. The 2021 Lung Health Barometer Media Summary revealed that 69% of adults have not spoken with their doctor about their risk for lung cancer and only 44% are concerned they might get the disease. Reducing the stigma can lead to early detection and prevention, making it treatable compared to finding the disease in its later stages. Symptoms typically don’t appear until the cancer is in its later stages and they differ by person, but may include:

  • A cough that is persistent and gets worse over time

  • Hoarseness

  • Continuous chest pain

  • Shortness of breath or wheezing

  • Frequent lung infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia

  • Coughing up blood

Some symptoms may not directly affect or be related to the lungs. These symptoms may appear as the cancer starts to spread to other parts of your body:

  • Weight loss

  • Loss of appetite

  • Headaches

  • Bone pain or fractures

  • Blood clots

Early Detection Can Save Lives Early detection, by low-dose CT screening, may decrease lung cancer mortality by up to 20% among the high-risk population. Studies have found screening for lung cancer with low-dose CT scans reduces the risk of dying for those who are at high risk. If you meet the following criteria, you are considered high risk for developing lung cancer and it is recommended you get screened:

  • 50-80 years of age

  • Have a 20 pack-year history of smoking (this means 1 pack a day for 20 years, 2 packs a day for 10 years, etc.)

  • AND, are a current smoker, or have quit within the last 15 years

If you are not in the high-risk group, it’s still important to try to reduce your lung cancer risk by avoiding secondhand smoke and vapor and ensuring your home is free of radon and avoid exposure to hazardous chemicals at home and at work.

Every year more than 480,000 people die from tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke in the U.S. It is also the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. Many people are misinformed or lack knowledge about cigarettes which leads to addiction without understanding the seriousness of its consequences. A cigarette has over 7,000 chemicals including arsenic, lead, and tar. E-cigarettes are not a safe alternative. They use a battery to heat up a special liquid into an aerosol that users inhale. The liquid usually contains nicotine, propylene glycol, flavorings and other chemicals. Some of these chemicals can be highly addictive and are known to cause cancer and other lung diseases.

The majority of adult smokers began smoking before the age of 18, for a variety of reasons, so it is important as parents to educate yourselves and your kids about the dangers of smoking and to also recognize why kids start smoking to begin with:

  • Their parents are smokers.

  • Peer pressure—their friends encourage them to try cigarettes and to keep smoking.

  • They see smoking as a way of rebelling and showing independence.

  • They think that everyone else is smoking and that they should, too.

  • The tobacco industry has used clever marketing tactics to specifically target teenagers

Talking to your kids as a prevention measure is important. See how you can talk to your kids about smoking by calling 1-800-LUNGUSA or talk to a specialist at the American Lung Association by going to

Quitting Smoking/ Vaping

The youth vaping epidemic is like nothing we have seen before. Studies have begun to illustrate the dangers of vaping. The increased popularity of smoking or vaping among younger generations is worrisome and needs to be addressed, especially since 95% of smokers start before they’re 21. Parents, peer pressure, online advertisement, and stigma are all different reasons a young person might try smoking. The use of tobacco by teens can be prevented by keeping cigarettes and other devices out of the household, by implementing school programs to show the dangers of smoking, and by increasing taxes and prices on the products making them hard to afford for youth.

Some benefits to quitting smoking are that your body begins to recover 20 minutes after stopping by lowering your heart rate and blood pressure, your body's carbon monoxide drops to normal levels after a few days of quitting, and by 15 years your risk of cancer of the bladder, esophagus, and kidney decreases and your risk of coronary heart disease is close to that of a non-smoker.

Benefits of Quitting

You will also notice some changes right away, like you’ll save the money you spent on tobacco for other important things in your life. Here are just a few other benefits you may notice:

  • Food tastes better.

  • Your sense of smell returns to normal.

  • Your breath, hair, and clothes smell better.

  • Your teeth and fingernails stop yellowing.

  • Ordinary activities (for example, climbing stairs or light housework) leave you less out of breath.

  • You can be in smoke-free buildings without having to go outside to smoke.

Quitting also reduces the damaging effects of tobacco on how you look, including premature wrinkling of your skin, gum disease, and tooth loss.

Quitting may not be easy and does not happen overnight. The Great American Smokeout event on the third Thursday in November, may be a good day to start your journey toward a smoke-free life as you are joined by others that are trying to quit too. Get more information about the event.

Quitting Resources

Quitting Resources for Teens

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