Ex-smoker wants to decrease risk of lung cancer

The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: January 26, 2003

I smoked 1 pack of cigarettes between the ages of 17 and 26. I am now 37 years old, in good health with a good fitness regime. As an ex-smoker I am interested in my current risks of developing lung cancer and how I can continue to minimize those risks.  

Barbara Campling, MD, Medical Oncologist at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

You have stopped smoking, so you have already done the best thing possible to reduce your risk of lung cancer. You can continue to minimize your risk by continuing not to smoke. In doing so you will also reduce your risk of heart disease, pulmonary disease and a variety of other cancers. Since you stopped smoking at age 26, the likelihood that you will ever develop lung cancer is quite low, although it will always be somewhat higher than for someone who has never smoked. Most patients with lung cancer have smoked heavily for a number of decades.

Here's a paper that you might want to look up: Patterns of absolute risk of lung cancer mortality in former smokers, by MT Halpern et al, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 85: 457-464, 1993. There is a graph on page 459 of lung cancer death rates for men who are current, former and never-smokers. For the group of subjects who quit between ages 30-39, the risk of lung cancer was only slightly increased from that of persons who had never smoked. They didn't even look at people who quit in their 20's, but presumably their risk would be even less. Even people who have never smoked sometimes get lung cancer, and when they do it is usually a form of non-small cell lung cancer called adenocarcinoma.

Is there anything other than not smoking that can reduce your risk of lung cancer? The evidence that diet can contribute in any way to lung cancer development is controversial. Since you are health-conscious, you are probably already on a healthy low fat diet, high in fruits and vegetables. This may or may not reduce the chance of getting lung cancer, but will probably reduce your risk of certain other malignancies such as colon cancer. You are physically fit, and this will reduce your chance of heart disease.

Sounds like you are already doing everything you can to reduce your risk of lung cancer as well as other diseases. I hope that others will follow your example.


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