November 14, 2012 | by Hiu Chung So
This Thursday marks the 37th annual Great American Smokeout by the American Cancer Society, which encourages current smokers to put a butt in their habit—even if only for one day.
And according to Dr. Brian Tiep and Rachel Dunham, R.N., M.S.N., from City of Hope’s Tobacco Dependency Treatment Program, the time has never been better to quit for good especially since cigarette smoking is the number one preventable cause of disease and death in the United States.
Furthermore, Tiep and Dunham said, better treatments make it easier than ever for smokers to quit, helping limit their withdrawal symptoms and relapses.
“For smokers trying to go ‘cold turkey’, the success rate is only about 5%,” Dunham said. “But with the right kind and combination of treatments, such as nicotine replacements, medication, support groups and behavioral therapy, we can see success rates of approximately 40%.”
For many smokers, Tiep pointed out, the cigarette ‘habit’ should be regarded as a chronic medical disease affecting the brain rather than something that can simply be cured. “There is a growing body of research indicating that nicotine addiction is like alcoholism; it is a lifelong condition, but it can be managed.”
The need to do so is great. “Studies have shown that former smokers’ bodies start to recover soon after they stop smoking,” Tiep said. “Some immediate and short term health benefits include reducing heart rate to normal levels, alleviation of asthma and bronchitis symptoms and overall improvement of lung function.”
“Over the long-term, the risk of smoking-related diseases-including various cancers and coronary diseases-drop significantly,” Dunham added.
According to the American Lung Society, after quitting for 15 years, an ex-smoker’s risk of stroke and coronary heart disease is the same as a nonsmoker, with numerous other benefits along the way.
But significantly cutting lung cancer deaths will also take a second step.
Dr. Dan J. Raz, surgical director of the Lung Cancer and Thoracic Oncology Program at City of Hope Medical Center, says former smokers need to be screened. He points to a recent trial, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, finding that the death toll from lung cancer could be cut by at least 20% with early screening.
“Most lung cancers are detected when they have already spread through the body and cannot be cured,” he says. And many occur in people who have long since stopped smoking.
Low-dose CT scans can detect 80% of lung cancers early in the disease process, he says, when they can be more easily cured. “The problem is,” Dr. Raz says, “most primary care physicians don’t know about it, and most insurance companies won’t pay for it.”
According to the American Cancer Society, about 226,160 cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed this year in the United States. More than 160,000 people will die from the disease.