Smoking hits close to home for most Georgians. About one in five adults, one in four teens and one in nine tweens in the state are smokers.
Smoking also hits close to home for cancer clinicians and researchers. We see the results every day: lung cancer (90 percent of which is caused by smoking), as well as cancers of the head, neck, esophagus, stomach, kidneys, bladder, cervix and blood – all of which share smoking as a risk factor.
MORE PEOPLE die from lung cancer every year – about 160,000 – than any other, including cancers of the breast, prostate, blood, skin, colon and rectum combined.
The best solution? Quit tobacco use and quit smoking. You may be surprised to know that quitting has immediate benefits. Within hours, the level of carbon monoxide in your blood begins to decrease. Heart rate and blood pressure, which go up while smoking, return to normal. And within the next weeks or months, you cough and wheeze less, while enjoying an improved sense of smell, which means food will taste better.
In the long term, quitting helps reduce your risk of premature death – a 90 percent risk reduction if you quit by age 30, and a 50 percent risk reduction for those who quit by age 50, according to the National Cancer Institute.
TO HELP QUIT tobacco use, my colleagues and I at the Georgia Health Sciences University Cancer Center recommend two strategies that can double your chance of success:
• Behavioral skills training. Resources including your physician, hotlines – Georgia’s is (877) 270-7867 – and support groups can provide advice and support on tobacco cessation.
• Medications. Nicotine replacement, available as patches or gums, can help overcome tobacco addiction over time. Another option is medication that targets nicotine receptors in the brain. (Talk to your doctor for more information.)
But because lung cancer still affects 40 percent of ex-smokers and 10 percent of those who have never smoked, research must remain an important focus. Lung cancer continues to lag in research funding. At least double the amount of research dollars (including $631 million in National Cancer Institute funding in 2010 alone) targets breast cancer. Better funding means better treatment.
IF WE ARE to improve the health of Georgians, smoking and tobacco cessation must be at the top of our to-do list. On the state and national level, we need more research funding. These additional dollars can yield new therapies that will reduce the number of deaths from lung cancer, and develop more community prevention strategies.
On a personal level, education is nothing without action. Parents and caregivers, we encourage you to serve as healthy role models so your children never start smoking. If you do smoke, we invite you to take the first step in quitting: Call your doctor, call Georgia’s free quit line or, if you’re ready, throw away that pack. Please take this step today, for better health and better quality of life for you and your family.
(The writer is director of the Georgia Health Sciences University Cancer Center, and has more than 22 years’ experience in cancer research and treatment, including in the Cancer Vaccine Section at the National Cancer Institute.)