I am a thirty-year-old woman who has smoked on and off for 10 years, with a 3-year break in between. I am a full-time student and worker, and I am currently a light smoker, but I realize I am relying on smoking for stress reduction (I also exercise at a high level most days). I am very interested in QUITTING smoking forever. I have noticed a slight tightness in my chest, swollen glands, etc. The hypochondriac in me is convinced that I have already done permanent damage. Otherwise, I am very healthy and energetic besides this one, horribly addictive issue. Do you have any suggestions for quitting, scare tactics, or words about healing that you could share? I want to live to be an old lady.
Barbara Campling, MD, Medical Oncologist, responds:
You are a young woman who is physically fit, and it sounds like you are highly motivated to quit smoking. You are worried that you may have already done some permanent damage after 10 years of smoking off and on. In fact, your chance of getting lung cancer will always be higher than that of someone who has never smoked. It is likely that you have already sustained some permanent genetic damage to your lungs. However, if you quit now, the chances of this progressing to cancer are greatly reduced, and it will be unlikely that you will ever develop lung cancer.
There are thousands of reasons why you should stop smoking right now, and no valid reasons to continue. Here are some statistics that will scare you. Smoking is by far the most significant cause of premature preventable death in North America. It is estimated that half of regular smokers will die as a result of their addiction. Smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, and a variety of cancers. Lung cancer alone accounts for nearly 30% of cancer deaths in this country, and the vast majority of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking. Here's another scary statistic. It appears that women are more prone to develop lung cancer than men for comparable levels of tobacco exposure. While most cases of lung cancer occur in older people, we are now seeing some cases in women in their 30's. I'm not sure what to make of your symptoms of chest tightness and swollen lymph glands. You should see your physician about this. And while you are there, you should discuss your intention to quit smoking. Most smokers want to quit but are unable to do so. Cigarette smoking is a powerful addiction. Quitting cigarettes can be as difficult as quitting heroin. But it can be done. There are some medications that can make it easier. Nicotine replacement therapy (e.g. the "patch") can help to reduce the cravings for nicotine. There are also medications that can reduce relapses after smoking cessation. You should talk to your doctor about this. You will also likely need some moral support. You might start by contacting the Lung Association. They can give you information about smoking cessation resources in your community, and they also offer on-line smoking cessation programs. All these measures will help, but quitting still will not be easy. It sounds like you are very health conscious and you exercise daily. Do not let smoking undo all the positive effects of the exercise that you are doing. I hope that you will live to a ripe old age, and your chances of this are very much higher if you quit smoking right now. Good luck. You sound very motivated to quit, and you should be able to do it. But it won't be easy. Get all the help that you can. OncoLink has an article about getting started.