The Medical Minute

July 28, 2022

By: Deborah Greubel, DNP, APRN-CNP
MBU chief health officer 

August 1 is World Lung Cancer Day. Observed every year since 2012, the day focuses on educating people around the world about occurrences of lung cancer. The disease is one of the most common cancers and causes more deaths than breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined. This year alone one in five people will die from lung cancer.

The most important risk factor for lung cancer is smoking, which accounts for approximately 90% of all lung cancer cases. Smokers have a 20-times higher risk for lung cancer than those who do not smoke. The older you are, the higher this risk becomes.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advises that all adults, 50 to 80 years old, who have a 20 pack-year history and currently smoke or quit smoking within the last 15 years receive an annual screening for lung cancer by CT scan.

A “pack-year” is calculated as: number of cigarettes smoked per day times the number of years the person has smoked. For example, one pack year is equal to smoking one pack per day for one year, or two packs per day for half a year, and so on.

Even if you’re not a smoker, a family history of lung cancer coupled with exposure to certain carcinogens (i.e. second-hand smoke) also increases your likelihood of developing the disease.

So, what happens if you quit smoking? There are many positive health effects that begin after your last cigarette. In 2018, Healthline outlined the following:

20 minutes after your last cigarette:

  • There is improvement in blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Bronchial fibers move better and help move irritants and bacteria out of the lungs.

Eight hours after your last cigarette:

  • Carbon monoxide levels return to normal, helping increase the amount of oxygen your cells receive.

24 hours after your last cigarette:

  • In just one day, the risk of heart attack is decreased.
  • Nicotine levels in the blood are almost gone.

One week after your last cigarette:

  • Nerve endings start regrowing in 48 hours.
  • Smell and taste improve.
  • Breathing is easier and lung capacity increases by nearly 30%.

Within a year of smoking cessation, the body undergoes many changes and all for the better. You’ll develop more energy. You’ll experience less smoking-related problems like sinus congestion and shortness of breath when exercising. The “smoker’s cough” usually goes away.

Not only will you see improvements in your overall health, but also in your bank account. Tossing that “one pack a day” habit will put thousands of dollars back in your pocket.

Within a decade, you’ll have reduced your risk of dying due to lung cancer equal to that of a nonsmoker. And the risk reduction applies not just to lung cancer, but other illnesses associated with smoking like cancers of the esophagus, mouth, bladder, kidneys, and pancreas. And by year 15, your risk for heart attack and stroke will be equal to that of a nonsmoker. These milestones are definitely worth celebrating.

Remember August 1. Help a friend understand the risks of smoking. If you’re a smoker, reach out for help. Save a life. Don’t you think it’s worth it?