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COPD and lung cancer: 2 reasons to quit smoking

COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.; lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death. Your doctor can help you avoid these diseases by quitting smoking.

If you’ve smoked a cigarette recently, you might think that the health risks of smoking won’t affect you until much later in life—and that they may not be serious.

But, in reality, every time you light up, you are putting yourself at risk for two deadly diseases: lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in this country alone, yet more than 46 million Americans still smoke,” says Kay Walters, respiratory care director at Jackson Hospital. “However, more than half of these smokers have attempted to quit for at least one day in the past year.”

Treatments can help relieve symptoms and slow the progress of both lung cancer and COPD. But the single best way to help your lungs, both now and for years to come, is to join the ranks of ex-smokers. It’s never too late to quit—no matter how long you’ve been smoking.

Two diseases, one main cause

Lung cancer begins when cells in the lungs start to develop abnormally and then multiply and clump together into a tumor.

COPD is the umbrella term for the diseases emphysema and chronic bronchitis, which often develop together. With emphysema, the lung’s air sacs are damaged, causing shortness of breath. That means less and less oxygen is transferred into the bloodstream, depleting nourishment to the body and its organs. Chronic bronchitis inflames and scars the lungs and the lining of the airways, also affecting the ability of the person to take in—and let out—a breath.

Although there are other causes for COPD and lung cancer, smoking is by far the main culprit. It’s linked to about 87 percent of lung cancer deaths and up to 90 percent of COPD deaths, according to the American Lung Association.

In addition:
  • Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the U.S. It causes more deaths than the next three most common cancers (colon, breast and prostate) combined.
  • Lung cancer often isn’t detected until it’s in an advanced stage. Over half of people with lung cancer die within a year after their diagnosis.
  • COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • COPD’s symptoms—wheezing, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, a nagging cough that produces mucus—are often ignored by people with the disease for years. However, treatments can help improve a person’s quality of life once COPD is diagnosed, so make an appointment with your doctor if you have the symptoms.

Choose a strategy

If you smoke, you need to try hard to quit. Your doctor is a good source of information about tools that can help, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines and smoking cessation programs.
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