Being Well

Get the Facts about Smoking and How Quitting Reduces Cancer Risk

The facts about smoking are that it wreaks havoc on your entire body and raises your risk of cancer and other diseases. However, you can quickly undo much of the damage by quitting. You can get help with quitting from your doctor, online or by working with friends and family.

You’ve been told for years that smoking is bad for your health. It raises your risk of lung cancer, head and neck cancers, emphysema and a host of other problems. Smoking is also addicting, so quitting isn’t easy. But it is possible and it’s worth it.

The facts about smoking and your health

First, it’s important to understand the havoc smoking wreaks on your body. Smoking raises your risk of developing at least 10 different types of cancer, including esophageal, lung, throat, kidney and liver. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that about one in five deaths every year is caused by smoking.

The facts about smoking are ugly: Tobacco use damages nearly every organ in the body. Smokers face a higher risk of stroke, heart attack, chronic bronchitis, erectile dysfunction and more. Cigarettes, pipes, hookahs, chewing tobacco, snuff and other forms of tobacco use all raise your risk of cancer and other illnesses.

There’s also the problem of secondhand smoke. The ACS states that secondhand smoke causes lung cancer and suggests that it may be linked to several other types of cancer in non-smokers as well. It also causes children of smokers to get sick more often.

You may wonder about e-cigarettes, which are rapidly gaining popularity. These contain nicotine and other chemicals, and are an alternative to burning tobacco. The chemicals in these products vary widely, and they are the least regulated smoking accessories. points out that research is limited so far on the link e-cigarettes have to cancer risk, so the verdict is still out on whether they can be considered a safer alternative.

The good news

There is a silver lining: Your body is resilient. When you quit smoking, your body begins to heal itself immediately. In fact, going a day without smoking starts to lower your risk of a heart attack.

After five years, your stroke risk drops, as does your risk of dying from lung cancer. According to, by 15 years, your risk of cancer drops, and you may have boosted your life expectancy by as much as 10 years. The younger you are when you quit, the more health benefits you’ll see.

How to quit

Quitting smoking is the best way to improve your overall health. It’s tough, and many people try multiple times before they succeed. But millions of people have already quit, and you can, too.

To get started, you need to be fully committed to living smoke-free and have a support network. This can come from friends, family, support groups, online tools or resources offered at hospitals and health clinics.

You will likely face withdrawal symptoms at first, which is where the support comes in. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about quitting before you begin. Your physician can offer options like nicotine replacement therapy, behavioral therapy, medications and acupuncture to help you overcome the urge to light up.

UVA Cancer Center offers a comprehensive Lung Cancer Screening & Prevention program.

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Patricia Chaney
Patricia Chaney