Quitting cigarettes can significantly lower your risk of acquiring lung cancer. (File image)

With the Great American Smokeout taking place Nov. 17, it’s important to understand that smoking can have a severe and detrimental effect on one’s health, including being the primary cause of lung cancer, a potentially deadly disease.

According to the American Cancer Society, while cigarette smoking rates have declined over the past several decades, from 42% in 1965 to 14% in 2019, the gains have been inconsistent. Some groups smoke more heavily or at higher rates and suffer disproportionately from smoking-related cancer and other diseases.

These populations tend to be those who experience inequities in multiple areas of their lives, including those at lower socioeconomic levels, those without college degrees, African American/Black communities, LGBTQ communities, American Indians/Alaska natives, those in the military, those with behavioral health conditions, and others. Black men – who tend to smoke in larger numbers  – are about 15% more likely to develop lung cancer than white men.

“If you smoke, quitting can significantly lower your risk of acquiring lung cancer,” said Dr. Rashmi Menon, a medical oncologist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “Even if you’ve smoked for a long time, it’s never too late to quit and your health will improve. Even if you already have lung cancer, quitting will help make your treatment work better.”

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How does lung cancer begin?
Lung cancer caused by smoking starts when abnormal cells grow out of control in the lung, and they can also spread to nearby tissues and form tumors. The disease can develop anywhere in the lungs and affect any part of the respiratory system.

Lung Cancer is the leading cancer killer of both men and women in the U.S. annually, according to Lung Cancer Foundation of America. In fact, lung cancer kills more people annually than breast, prostate and colorectal cancer combined.

“If you or a loved one smoke, it’s important to find out if you are recommended for lung cancer screening. It can help your doctor look for any problem before you have symptoms, which could save your life,” Dr. Menon said. “Since the guidelines for lung cancer screening are based on age and smoking history, it may be best to check with your doctor to see if a screening can benefit you.”

What are the symptoms?
The first signs of lung cancer may include:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Feeling short-of-breath
  • Chest pain
  • Having blood in mucus that you cough up

In California, voters approved Prop. 31, allowing a statewide ban on flavored tobacco to go into effect, which will go a long way in helping to protect children’s health by discouraging smoking. “Taking flavored e-cigarettes off the shelves will support the work Kaiser Permanente does every day to keep kids away from tobacco,” said Bechara Choucair, senior vice president and chief health officer. “It also marks the end of a decades-long, unjust targeting of African American communities in California with the promotion of highly addictive mint and menthol cigarettes.”

If you’re a smoker thinking about quitting, Kaiser Permanente offers valuable information that can help you personalize a plan to stop smoking.