It has been estimated that active smoking is responsible for close to 90 percent of lung cancer cases and is linked to mouth, throat and several other cancers. Smoking is the most important risk factor for lung cancer that can be modified.
The risk you have accumulated from smoking never disappears. However, quitting will help decrease your risk. After being smoke free for 10 years, you’re half as likely to die from lung cancer, according to the American Heart Association.
How much risk you have depends on several factors, such as how many years you smoked, how many cigarettes you smoked per day, and what age you started to smoke. It’s important to remember that there are many benefits to quitting smoking that are just as important as decreasing your risk from dying of lung cancer.
Smoking also puts you at risk for heart disease and stroke. According to the American Cancer Society, five years after you quit smoking your risk of having a stroke is reduced to that of a non-smoker and 15 years after you quit your risk of heart disease is reduced to that of a non-smoker.
Quitting smoking is very difficult, but the sooner you quit, the sooner your risk for serious diseases will decrease. The success rate of quitting is much better with the right help. There are many different options available to help smokers quit.
Nicotine replacement therapy is a common strategy. It works by giving the body controlled, lower doses of nicotine to reduce withdrawal symptoms. However, nicotine replacement therapies are not meant to be long-term solutions.
There are five nicotine replacement therapies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
- Nicotine gum – The gum works by releasing small amounts of nicotine into the mouth lining to decrease withdrawal symptoms. Gum delivers nicotine to the body faster than the patch. It’s recommended that the gum be used for one to three months, but no longer than six months. Gum is available over-the-counter.
- Nicotine patch – With the patch, nicotine is gradually and steadily released into the bloodstream to reduce withdrawal symptoms. It’s recommended that the patch be used for three to five months. The patch is available over-the-counter.
- Nicotine lozenges – Lozenges deliver nicotine quickly through the mouth tissues. It’s recommended that no more than 20 lozenges are used a day. Lozenges are available over-the-counter.
- Nicotine nasal spray – The nasal spray instantly delivers nicotine with one spray into each nostril. The spray is helpful for sudden cravings. Spray is not recommended for use longer than six months and requires a prescription.
- Nicotine inhaler – The inhaler delivers nicotine as quickly as nicotine gum. It’s recommended to use the inhaler for at least three months, but no longer than six. Inhalers require a prescription.
Quitting is difficult and most people need multiple layers of support regardless if you’re using nicotine replacement therapies or not. There are a variety of options available:
- Audio tapes
- Support groups
- Formal smoking cessation classes/programs
- Phone counseling programs
If you’re thinking of quitting and don’t know how to start, consult your primary care physician. Your physician will be able to connect you to programs and support materials in your community.