(This article appeared previously on the American Cancer Society website.)
Cigarette smoking causes nearly one-third of all cancer deaths in the U.S. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to quit, and the sooner the better. But quitting is rewarding no matter how old you are or whether you have health problems.
The benefits are almost immediate. Ex-smokers have fewer illnesses, like colds and the flu, lower rates of bronchitis and pneumonia and feel healthier than people who still smoke.
Just 20 minutes after quitting, your heart and blood pressure drop. In just 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal. In as little as two weeks, your circulation improves and your lung function increases.
Nearly everyone knows that smoking can cause lung cancer, but fewer people realize it is also linked to a higher risk for many other kinds of cancer. Quitting smoking also lowers the risk of heart attack, stroke and chronic lung disease.
If You Have Cancer
If you’ve already been diagnosed with cancer or another significant health problem, quitting smoking often makes it more likely the treatment will be successful and that you’ll have fewer side effects.
But a study by American Cancer Society (ACS) researchers found that about 1 in 10 cancer survivors still reports smoking about nine years after a diagnosis. Lead author Lee Westmaas, director of the ACS’ tobacco control research, says doctors and health care providers must continue to ask cancer survivors about their smoking and provide resources, including medications and counseling, to help them quit.
If your health care provider doesn’t ask you about quitting, you should do the asking, he says. It could be the first step toward getting the help you need.
If you’re a caregiver, Westmaas says, you may be able to help a cancer patient by quitting yourself. In another study, Westmaas and ACS colleagues found that cancer patients and survivors were more likely to keep smoking if they lived in the same household with another smoker.
Quitting When You’re Older
According to the National Cancer Institute, being older creates both challenges and advantages when it comes to quitting.
The challenges: You have likely tried to quit before, maybe even more than once. Knowing how hard it is may make you feel discouraged about trying again. And if you’ve been smoking a long time, it may be so much a part of your everyday life that it’s hard to imagine quitting.
The advantages: Older adults have strengths younger people may not have that can help them quit. Over their lifetimes, older adults have had lots of experience accomplishing difficult tasks. At this point in their lives, they are likely to be better prepared to quit smoking than when they were younger. They know quitting is tough, and they know it won’t be easy, so once they decide to try again they may be more willing to work at it to make sure they succeed.
The immediate benefits: Soon after quitting, you’ll notice your breath smells better, stained teeth get whiter, food tastes better and everyday activities, like climbing stairs, might no longer leave you out of breath. You’ll also be protecting your loved ones from the dangers of secondhand smoke.
Another benefit: Saving money. Smoking is expensive. Calculate how much money you spend each month on cigarettes for extra motivation to quit.
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