It’s never too late to stop smoking. Each year tens of thousands of women die from lung cancer, which has passed breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer death among women. Almost 90 percent of these deaths will be due to smoking.
“It’s no real secret that smoking isn’t a healthy habit for anyone, but growing research suggests women are more vulnerable to the damaging effects of cigarettes than men,” says Michele McPherson, thoracic services coordinator at Blount Memorial Hospital. We don’t really know why, McPherson says, but it could be because women have smaller lungs. McPherson points out, “There also could be genetic differences in the way that men and women metabolize cigarette smoke, based on the genes they inherit.”
Not only does smoking increase the risk for lung cancer in women, it places them at greater risks for other cancers like cervical, pancreatic, stomach, kidney and cancer of the mouth. Women who smoke, especially after menopause, have lower bone density, McPherson says, and a higher risk for broken bones and fractures. “Smoking also affects a woman’s reproductive health,” McPherson adds. “Women who smoke are more likely to have trouble getting pregnant, and those who do smoke are more likely to have a stillborn child or one who dies from sudden infant death syndrome.” She points out it also can bring on menopause at a younger age and make the symptoms more unpleasant. A woman’s appearance and mental health also are affected by her tobacco use. “Smokers have more facial wrinkles, gum disease, dental decay and bad breath than women who chose not to smoke,” McPherson says. Research also shows smokers are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.
From the moment a woman stops smoking, the benefits of quitting start to add up. “In as little as 20 minutes, blood pressure and heart rate decrease and body temperature of the hands and feet increase,” McPherson says. After eight hours, the carbon dioxide in a woman’s blood returns to normal and oxygen levels increase to normal. She adds that after just 24 hours, the chances of a heart attack decrease, and two days after quitting smoking, a woman’s ability to smell and taste will improve. McPherson points out the benefits of quitting add up very quickly, and the former smoker isn’t the only person to benefit. “A woman’s spouse and children will be less likely to die of lung cancer or heart disease,” she says. “You’ll also decrease your chances of developing cataracts and having a stroke.”
There are steps you can take that will help you be more successful at quitting smoking. “Pick a date,” McPherson suggests. “Before that day get rid of all cigarettes, ashtrays and lighters everywhere you smoke.” She also advises getting support from family, friends and co-workers. Talk to your doctor about medicines to help you quit. McPherson says you also have to be realistic about quitting. “Be prepared for a relapse,” she says. “Most people relapse and start smoking again, but always try again.”
For more information on quitting, call the National Cancer Institute at 877-44U-QUIT.
The Women’s Health column is provided by the staff and associates of Blount Memorial Hospital. It appears every Sunday in Women’s Times. For more information on this column call 983-7211.
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