Over 85% of diagnosed cases of lung cancer (LC) are attributable to smoking tobacco products. Given that, it is surprising that many people (including those who are directly exposed to cigarette smoke) remain unaware of how the habit influences the onset of the disease. Most people understand the connection; they recognize that smoking can increase the likelihood of developing cancerous cells. Yet, their understanding seldom extends further.

In this article, we’ll explore how the inhalation of smoke from tobacco products can lead to lung cancer. We’ll describe some of the potent chemicals contained within the smoke, and their effect on your body. You’ll also discover the different types of LC that can emerge after prolonged exposure to cigarette smoke, and the immediate and long-term effects of quitting the habit.

Known Carcinogens Within Cigarettes

Most people who smoke do so because the habit helps them “take the edge off,” reduce their stress level, and help them relax. These sensations are the result of the chemicals contained in cigarettes. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are over 4,000 chemicals within tobacco smoke; 250 of them are known to be harmful. They include carbon monoxide, ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide.

Of the 250 harmful chemicals, over 50 of them are known carcinogens (i.e. chemicals that trigger cancerous cells). These include nickel, cadmium, arsenic, and vinyl chloride. Some of the carcinogens have other uses, including the production of batteries, plastics, pesticides, and gasoline. Inhaling them while smoking exposes your lung tissue to these toxins.

Tobacco Smoke And Lung Cancer Types

Smoking can cause both small cell and non-small cell lung cancers (SCLC and NSCLC, respectively). As a side note, non-smokers can also develop NSCLC.

One out of five diagnosed cases (for smokers) are SCLC. This form of the disease metastasizes quickly and is often asymptomatic during its early stages. That makes diagnosing and treating it problematic. In fact, unlike the four stages of NSCLC, there are only two stages for SCLC: limited and extensive.

There are three main types of non-small cell LC: large cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma. Large cell carcinoma is less common than the other two types; it is only responsible for one out of ten cases. In contrast, squamous cell carcinoma makes up a third of diagnosed NSCLC cases. Adenocarcinoma accounts for half of diagnosed cases, and affects both smokers and non-smokers.

The Effects Of Quitting

Smokers under the age of thirty who quit the habit can reduce the likelihood of developing lung cancer by nearly 90%. Those under fifty can cut the odds by half.

Quitting has an immediate effect on your blood pressure and heart. Plus, carbon monoxide levels within your blood begin declining within hours of quitting. That raises the level of oxygen that can be delivered throughout your body.

Even if you quit, there is still a chance cancerous cells will develop. The likelihood of this occurring depends on how many years you have smoked, the age at which you started, and how many cigarettes you smoked on a daily basis. The takeaway is that quitting dramatically reduces your vulnerability to lung cancer. And the sooner you do so, the better.

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