The Benefits of Quitting Smoking

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed: March 4, 2020

Why quit smoking?

Tobacco smoking leads to more than 480,000deaths each year, including 41,000 deaths from secondhand smoke exposure. Tobacco use is responsible for nearly 1 in 5 deaths in the U.S. Also, smokers diet about 10 years earlier than nonsmokers. 

A person's risk of developing cancer increases with the time that they smoke (number of years) and the amount that they smoke (number of cigarettes per day). Quitting is beneficial at ANY time - no matter how long you have smoked. Quitting allows your body to begin to reverse some of the damage smoking has done. The risk of cancer becomes less as the number of years you have been smoke-free increases. Quitting also reduces your risk of other smoking related health problems, compared to people who continue smoking.

Is there any benefit to quitting if I already have cancer?

Yes! Quitting reduces the risk of developing a second cancer. Quitting helps your body heal better after surgery and other cancer treatment. Quitting can help reduce symptoms such as cough and shortness of breath. Studies have found that people who quit soon after a lung cancer diagnosis actually respond better to treatment. These are all good reasons to quit after a cancer diagnosis, but it is not easy. Talk to your care team about getting help to quit- through medications and support programs.

What happens when you quit?

Within minutes of smoking the last cigarette, the body begins to restore itself. Just look at these facts from the American Cancer Society:

  • 20 minutes after quitting: Your heart rate and blood pressure drop to a more normal level.
  • 12 hours after quitting: The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal. 
  • 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting: Your circulation improves, meaning your blood is pumped better and your lungs work better. 
  • 1 to 9 months after quitting: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease. Lung function improves increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs, and reduce the risk of infection. 
  • 1 year after quitting: The excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker's. 
  • 5 years after quitting: Your risk of stroke is reduced to that of a non-smoker 2-5 years after quitting. The risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder is cut in half after 5 years. Cervical cancer risk is that of a non-smoker. 
  • 10 years after quitting: The lung cancer death rate is about half that of a person who is still smoking. The risk of larynx and pancreatic cancer decreases. 
  • 15 years after quitting: The risk of coronary heart disease is that of a non-smoker. 

Keep in mind the benefits of better-smelling breath, hair, and clothes. Your senses of smell and taste may improve, and you may begin to notice less shortness of breath when doing simple activities. You will be setting a great example for other smokers who want to quit. Your family and friends will be proud of your achievement, not to mention the benefits for them. In addition, you will be saving lots of money; set aside what you would usually spend and do something nice for yourself with the money!

What makes a person decide to quit?

Learning about the negative effects of smoking may be the motivation some people need to quit. Many people who receive a cancer diagnosis see that as the time to quit. For some, the diagnosis of cancer in a close friend or family member can be the reason to quit. Whatever the motivation, quitting can be hard. Use the links below to learn more about the importance of quitting, planning a quit date and finding the support needed to be successful. Keep in mind, most people attempt to quit many times before being successful. 

Life After Tobacco

Quitting tobacco cannot completely erase the damage done from previous smoking. You should always be honest with healthcare providers about your smoking history and be aware of the risks associated with this history. You may benefit from lung cancer screening, depending on how much you smoked and for how long.

If you have any of the following symptoms you should contact your provider. They could be symptoms of an illness related to a history of smoking:

  • Any change in a cough (for example, you cough up more phlegm or mucus than usual).
  • A new cough.
  • Coughing up blood.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Wheezing.
  • Chest pain.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Weight loss.
  • Feeling tired all the time (fatigue).
  • Frequent lung or respiratory infections (like pneumonia or bronchitis).
  • Development of sores or white patches in your mouth.

Resources for quitting:

Quit Smoking: The Basics

Smoking Cessation: Where do I start?

Smoking Cessation Aids

Lung Cancer Screening

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking & Tobacco Use. 2019. 

World Health Organization. Tobacco. 2019. 

American Cancer Society. Benefits of Quitting Smoking Over Time. 2018. 

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