Lung cancer, cigarettes and the help you need to quit smoking

Lung cancer is the leading cause of death in women. Cigarette smoking is its main cause.

This isn’t news, right? And yet I feel like it’s something that people need to keep hearing.

For one thing, lung cancer works differently in women than in men. Women are more vulnerable because of a variety of factors that have to do with genetic and biological differences. And although cigarette smoking is the way most women develop lung cancer, even women who don’t smoke can get lung cancer, often because of secondhand smoke or other chemicals like radon or asbestos. Sometimes it’s just because of genetics, and estrogen might even play a role.

It’s not just lung cancer that tobacco paves the way for. Tobacco actually increases your risk for several cancers:

  • AML, an aggressive form of leukemia
  • Bladder
  • Cervical
  • Esophogeal
  • Kidney
  • Larnyx (voice box)
  • Lung
  • Lip
  • Nasal cavity
  • Mouth
  • Stomach

You don’t even have to smoke to increase your risk of being harmed by tobacco. Secondhand smoke is tobacco smoke pollution; it is smoke exhaled from a smoker and smoke from a lit cigarette.

No amount of smoke is safe. If you are breathing, then you are at risk for passive smoking (or involuntary smoking), meaning you’re inhaling secondhand smoke. And by the way, cigars create more secondhand smoke than cigarettes do.

Secondhand smoke is thought to increase your risk of breast cancer and head and neck cancers. Kids who breathe secondhand smoke are at increased risk for brain tumors, leukemia and lymphoma. They’re also more likely to have

  • Ear infections
  • Asthma
  • Pneumonia
  • Wheezing
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

To keep kids safe, keep your home and car smoke-free, and stay out of places that allow smoking. If you’re in a restaurant that has a smoking section, for example, you can’t count on the fans and blowers to keep you safe. They just don’t do the whole job, and so your best bet is to stay away entirely.

And if you need to quit?

Maybe you’ve tried quitting a hundred times. I know. I hear you. Nicotine is tough to give up, but I want to encourage you never to give up on beating it because . . . well, you know the reasons.

St. Vincent has a great program for helping smokers quit. (Find out about it here.) We want you to get healthy, not to make you feel guilty. Make sure that you talk to your healthcare provider to find out about options for quitting, including medications. Currently, there are two medications that help curb the urge to smoke:

  • Chantix is in a class of meds called smoking cessation aids. It works by blocking the pleasant effects of nicotine on the brain. You start the medicine for a week before you set your smoking quit date.
  • Zyban (or Wellbutrin) is another drug that is used to help people quit smoking. It actually is an antidepressant, but it has been found to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

There are also nicotine patches, gum, lozenges and inhalers. These kinds of aids help you get through the moments when your craving is at its worst. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use any of them, because they aren’t without side effects.

It’s hard to say which method will be most effective for you. The important thing is that you keep trying.

If you have questions about lung cancer or quitting smoking — or any other health concern — you can call 317-338-4-HER to talk to a registered nurse or use this form to talk to me directly.

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