Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"What are the health risks associated with smoking other than cancer?"
What should I be worried about if I was a smoker? I smoked for 20 years but now I have quit. Other than cancer, what should I be on the lookout for? If I quit will I eventually go back to normal health?
First of all, congratulations on quitting smoking! This is truly one of the very best decisions you can make to protect your overall health. You are right that there are many health risks associated with smoking, including many different cancers, but the good news is that your lung health starts to improve in the very first weeks from the time that you stop smoking. It takes years (on the order of decades) for your lung cancer risk to approach the level of what it would have been had you never been a smoker, but as a former smoker your cancer risk is still lower than that of a current smoker. In addition to cancer, smoking also places you at significant risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (also called COPD). We all lose lung function as we age, but people who smoke lose a much greater percentage each year than people who don't smoke, and it is this additional decline in lung function that eventually leads to the shortness of breath and decreased ability to be active that characterizes COPD. The best way to protect your remaining lung health is to see your primary care physician regularly for screening exams and to stay active--exercise will help you maintain the lung function you do have. In addition, smoking is also associated with increased risk of heart disease. Monitoring for cardiac risk factors is also an important part of regular primary care visits.
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