Quitting Smoking Is Hard, but Reducing Your Risk of Cancer Death Isn’t.

May 12, 2021 1:15:00 PM Posted by Iowa Radiology

cancer CT scan


If you’re a long-term smoker, you probably don’t need to be reminded that it’s bad for your health. You understand that smoking makes it more likely that you’ll develop lung cancer. If it were easy to just quit, you would have done it by now.

There are a couple of reasons that tobacco is a hard habit to break.



Nicotine is addictive, possibly more so than cocaine or heroin. With cigarettes readily available at every corner store, it’s no wonder so many people are hooked. Like other addictive drugs, nicotine causes the body to release dopamine. When you quit, your dopamine levels fall, which can cause anxiety or depression.

Because nicotine is a stimulant, going without it can also cause you to have more trouble focusing your attention. These withdrawal symptoms fade over the course of a few days to a week, but they can make the first few days especially tough. After about a month after quitting, however, the number of nicotine receptors in the brain returns to pre-smoking levels.

While some people have turned to e-cigarettes, believing them to be a safer alternative, vaping also poses serious health risks. E-cigarettes still contain nicotine, which is not only addictive but also toxic, increasing blood pressure and risk of heart attack.


The Force of Habit

When behaviors become habitual, we start to engage in them without making a conscious choice. As we repeat actions over a long period of time, we strengthen the connections in our brains around them. Smokers tend to light up at certain times, such as after meals, while talking on the phone, or when having a drink with friends. So, when a smoker tries to quit, these situations can trigger cravings because they’re strongly connected with the act of smoking.


You can take steps to make quitting easier.

Experts estimate that only about 1% of smokers who attempt to quit without support are successful, and smokers might attempt to quit between eight and thirty times before quitting for good. That data may be daunting, but when you decide it’s time to quit, there are several things you can do to improve your chances of success.


Get support.

Having others to support you can make quitting easier. If you have friends or family members who want to quit at the same time, make it a team effort! Smokefree.gov provides access to supportive social media groups, helpful apps, and free texting programs so everyone can get support, no matter where they are.


Identify your triggers.

Take some time to think about when you normally light up, and develop plans to navigate those situations without a smoke. For example, if you tend to smoke after meals, consider taking a walk instead. The fresh air and boost of endorphins can help lift your mood and relieve stress.


Give your hands and mouth something else to do.

Consider picking up new habits that occupy your hands during idle times, like knitting, drawing, or puzzles. Keeping healthy snacks, chewing gum, or sugar-free hard candies around can help satisfy oral cravings.


Indulge in healthy pleasures.

Having a smoke may seem like a way to deal with life’s stresses, take a break from the world, and just focus on you. Finding healthy ways to do these things can make it easier to give up cigarettes. Consider your quitting journey as an excuse to treat yourself! With all the money you’ll save on cigarettes, you’ll be able to afford a little indulgence.


Practice mindfulness.

Mindfulness meditation has been shown to help people deal more effectively with stress and avoid substance use as a way to cope. Additionally, 2013 study found that when smokers undertook five hours of meditation training over the course of two weeks, they smoked 60% less, even if they had no intention of quitting or reducing tobacco use at the time.


Take it easy on yourself.

As mentioned above, many smokers try multiple times before successfully quitting. If you have a cigarette, don’t beat yourself up. Remember why you want to quit, and recommit to giving yourself the gift of freedom from addiction. Backsliding isn’t failing; it’s just a bump in the road to success. Just keep in mind that the more bumps you can avoid, the smoother your path will be.


Even before successfully quitting, you can reduce your chances of dying from lung cancer.

While quitting smoking is the best way to protect yourself from lung cancer, it’s not the only step you can take. Low-dose CT lung screening can help detect lung cancer in early stages, when it’s most treatable. A 2011 study compared health outcomes of smokers who were screened annually for lung cancer using either low-dose CT or single-view chest X-rays. Researchers found a 20% reduction in mortality from lung cancer in the group that underwent low-dose CT screening.

The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends CT lung screening for individuals who

    • Are 50–80 years old,
    • Currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years, and
    • Have a 20 pack-year smoking history.

A pack-year is defined as one pack a day for one year or the equivalent (e.g., two packs a day for 10 years or ½ pack a day for 40 years). The USPSTF recently updated this recommendation, which previously stipulated a 30 pack-year smoking history.

Low-dose CT lung screening is quick, painless, and noninvasive. The scan itself takes just about ten minutes of a 30-minute appointment. To learn more, download our free brochure.




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