Smoking and Lung Cancer





Lung cancer is an abnormal condition of the lungs where there is an unchecked growth of cells in the lung tissues. If it is left untreated, the condition can gradually spread into other parts of the body through a process known as metastasis. Most cancers which start developing in the lungs are said to be primary lung cancers; they are carcinomas which are derived from epithelial cells. A long term exposure to cigarettes and tobacco smoke is considered to be the principal cause of lung cancer. Throughout the world, lung cancer is thought to be the most widespread cause of cancer deaths in both men and women.

Link between Smoking and Lung Cancer

There is a strong correlation between smoking and lung cancer. Smoking cigarettes is considered to be the main cause behind lung cancer. Cigarette smoke includes more than 60 known forms of carcinogens, including the radioisotopes from radon decay sequence, benzopyrene and nitrosamine. Research also suggests that nicotine suppresses the immune response that can prevent malignant growth in the exposed tissues. Throughout the developed world, nearly 91% of deaths caused by lung cancer in men and 71% lung cancer death cases in women during 2000 were actually attributed to smoking. In United States, nearly 80% to 90% of all lung cancer cases are caused by smoking.

Lung cancer is related to smoking in another vital way. Passive smoking or secondhand smoke is a vital factor responsible for lung cancer in nonsmoking people. A passive smoker is an individual who is either living or working or staying in close proximity to a smoker. Studies done in Australia, US, UK and the European mainland have consistently shown an increased risk of developing lung cancer among nonsmokers who are exposed to passive smoke. The recent investigations done on sidestream smoke also suggest that passive smoking or secondhand smoke is even more dangerous than inhaling direct smoke. Passive smoking is responsible for nearly 3400 deaths caused by lung cancer every year in the United States.

Lung Cancer Development Stages

It generally takes several years for lung cancer to develop. People between fifty-five and sixty-five years of age are more likely to get affected by this disease. However, negative changes within the lungs can begin almost as quickly as an individual is exposed to nicotine and other carcinogenic chemicals present in cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Soon after the lungs are exposed to carcinogenic materials, a number of abnormal cells may begin to appear within the bronchial lining.

More abnormal cells begin to appear as a person’s lungs are exposed to these substances over a longer period of time.

The risk of developing lung cancer decreases if the person stops smoking. Over the years, the abnormal cells are gradually replaced by the normal cells. After a decade, the probability of suffering from lung cancer gets reduced to a level around 1/3 to 1/2 of the threat for the people who continue with the habit of smoking.

Smoking and Lung Cancer Statistics

Most statistics focus on the overall threats of lung cancer, studying both smoking as well as nonsmoking people. Nonsmoking people include those individuals who have never actually smoked in their lives. Studies also include both men and women. In the United States, the overall lifetime risk of an individual suffering from lung cancer is around 6.9% or one in every thirteen people. Obviously, the figures will be higher for smokers and much lower for nonsmokers.

Several countries across the world have studied groups of individuals that include current smokers who smoke at present, former smokers who used to be smokers at one point of time but now have left smoking and never smokers. This elaborate grouping has facilitated the study of smoking risks among various demographics which has further assisted these countries to develop statistical records of their own.

In a European study conducted in 2006, the risks of people developing lung cancer have been evaluated. The results of the study are shown below:

0.2% possibilities for men who have never smoked

0.4% possibilities for women who have never smoked

5.5% possibilities for men who were former smokers


2.6% possibilities for women who were former smokers

15.9% possibilities for men who are current smokers

9.5% possibilities for women who are current smokers

There is a 24.4% possibility for heavily smoking men who light up more than five cigarettes in a day.

18.5% of heavily smoking women who smoke more than five cigarettes in a day are in the risk of developing lung cancer.

According to an earlier study conducted in Canada, the lifetime risk were around 17.2% in men and around 11.6% in women. On the other hand, male and female nonsmokers were only 1.3% and 1.4% prone to develop lung cancer respectively.

Duration of Smoking and Lung Cancer

The younger people start smoking, the higher is their chances to develop lung cancer. The risk factor of developing lung cancer also varies with the total “pack-years” one has smoked. The pack-year is determined by multiplying the total number of years one has been smoking to the number of cigarette packs smoked daily.

Quitting smoking to lower the risks of Lung cancer

Quitting smoking can help to lower the probability of developing lung cancer. However it usually takes some time to minimize the health risks associated with smoking. If a person has smoked even for a short duration of time, he or she will never be as risk-free as a person who has never smoked. Still it is advisable for that person to try and quit smoking. Research conducted in Australia and Asia has shown that quitting smoking has reduced the chances of having lung cancer by nearly 70%.

Cutting down smoking and lung cancer

Even if one can’t quit smoking, cutting down smoking does help to alleviate the risks of lung cancer to some degree. Some studies suggest that if a person can bring down the number of cigarettes smoked in a day to half, he or she can enjoy a significant improvement in health. However, other studies still indicate that it is better to give up smoking completely.

Smoking after being diagnosed with lung cancer

Even if a person has already been diagnosed with lung cancer, it is still better to quit smoking completely. Quitting smoking can improve a person’s response to treatment and can even guarantee eventual survival of the patient.

Why some regular smokers get affected by lung cancer and others don’t?

Many longtime smokers are affected by lung cancer while others with a similar smoking history don’t. This is because certain genetic dispositions make a person more vulnerable to this deadly disease. On the other hand, a different DNA structure may provide more immunity against lung cancer.

Smoking is one of the principal factors behind the development of lung cancer in a person, the other factors being exposure to dust, asbestos fiber, radon gas, etc. Quitting smoking can not only reduce one’s risk of getting affected by lung cancer, it can also reduce many other forms of health vulnerabilities.

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