Health & Medicine

Quitting smoking reduces risk of cardiovascular disease, lung cancer

Scott Pierce
Scott Pierce

Kentucky is known for horse racing and bluegrass, but it also unfortunately boasts a high number of tobacco smokers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2011 that 29 percent of Kentuckians were smokers or smokeless tobacco users; the national average is 21.2 percent. Cigarette smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in the United States. While the health benefits are greater for those who quit using tobacco earlier in life, you’re never too old to quit.

There are more than 7,000 chemicals contained in tobacco smoke, and more than 60 of those chemicals can cause cancer. Those who smoke can lower their risk of lung cancer and other types of cancer by quitting. Smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer and contributes to about 80 percent of lung cancer deaths in men and 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in women.

Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the nation. Smoking can cause cancer of the throat and mouth, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, pancreas, voice box (larynx), trachea, bronchus, kidney and renal pelvis, urinary bladder and cervix, and causes acute myeloid leukemia. We have the ability to eliminate 50 percent of all cancer deaths now.

In addition, smoking can cause respiratory issues. Increased risks of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, are associated with smoking. Those who quit experience reduced respiratory symptoms, such as shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing, as soon as two months after quitting.

Carbon monoxide contained in tobacco smoke limits the amount of oxygen in your blood stream. This results in the heart pumping harder to supply the body with the the necessary amount of oxygen. The CDC reports that those who quit smoking reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease within one to two years.

The risks of cardiovascular diseases and stroke are greater for smokers and smokeless tobacco users. Nicotine, the drug naturally found in tobacco, reduces how much oxygen your heart gets, raises blood pressure, accelerates heart rate and makes blood clots more likely.

Unfortunately, the nicotine in tobacco is highly addictive, so quitting isn’t easy. Smokers who attempt to quit can suffer withdrawal symptoms, including irritation, anger or anxiety, tobacco cravings and weight gain. However, the benefits of quitting in the long term outweigh the short-term withdrawal symptoms.

Quitting smoking is not the easiest task, but it’s a smart decision at any age that will allow you to live a longer, healthier life. Millions of people successfully quit every year. Stay motivated to quit and set a quit date. Join a cessation program or support group, or talk to your physician about a helpful prescription. These are important first steps that will help you on your way to better health.

Dr. Scott Pierce is with KentuckyOne Health Hematology and Oncology Associates.