If I quit smoking, can I still get cancer?
There’s nothing better you can do for your health than quit
While smoking is still the leading preventable cause of illness and death in Australia, the good news is that smoking rates have been going down for many years. In fact, between 1991 and 2016, the number of Australians who smoke has halved.
So, if you smoke but want to join the ranks of those who have quit, you’re not alone. Thousands of Aussies have successfully kicked their habit – and with your health at risk with every cigarette, there’s never been a better time to quit than now.
There are countless benefits to quitting and you’ll notice some of these benefits straight away. Many smokers worry that the damage is already done and that it’s too late to quit, but actually the reverse is true. It’s never too late to quit!
Research shows by quitting smoking you can reduce your risk of cancer and other smoking-related illnesses by 20-90% and quitting at any age improves your life expectancy, which for smokers is about 10 years shorter than that of non-smokers.
Knowing just how far-ranging the effects of smoking can be - and how these effects can be reversed if you stop - may be just the motivation you need.
The effects of smoking can be seen both inside and out. Baggy eyelids, uneven skin colouring and wrinkles develop sooner and are more obvious in smokers. But improvements in your skin’s appearance can happen as quickly as one month after quitting.
Smoking can cause bad breath, gum disease, tooth discolouration, tooth decay and even tooth loss. Quit to improve your dental health and rescue your pearly whites.
Several studies have found that smoking may increase anxiety, stress and depression. While quitting may cause a temporary increase in anxiety symptoms, people who have quit smoking report improved levels of stress and anxiety compared to when they were smoking.
Your sense of smell and taste can take a hit when you’re a smoker. Quitting can help you enjoy the taste, smell and texture of your favourite foods even more. And you’ll notice the effects quickly - often within about a week of stopping smoking - so get ready to cook up the tastiest dinner you’ll ever eat!
Smoking increases your risk of developing heart disease. Recent research has shown that smoking just a few cigarettes (or even just one) a day increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. On the positive side, your risk plummets after quitting, and is almost the same as non-smokers after several years.
Smoking increases your risk of erectile dysfunction (impotence) and it can reduce sperm quality. And it’s not just men affected; smoking can also affect a woman’s fertility. By quitting, you’ll reduce the risk of impotence and boost your fertility. If you do get pregnant, it’s important to be aware that smoking causes several serious health problems for babies and is the most common preventable risk factor for pregnancy complications.
Money, money, money. Many smokers don’t even realise the amount of money they spend on cigarettes - you may be spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars every year. Think of the family holiday or new car you could buy with all the money you save from quitting.
You may have found that smoking also affects your social life. Most public places now ban smoking or only allow smoking in certain areas, so the need to excuse yourself from your friends to have a cigarette may be getting on your nerves.
It’s not just you who can benefit from quitting. Secondhand smoke is known to cause heart disease and lung cancer in non-smokers and smoking around children of any age negatively affects their health. Thinking about how your smoking affects the health of those around you, including friends and family, is a good way to motivate you to quit.
Smoking is the leading cause of cancer in Australia. Most people associate lung cancer with smoking, but you may not know that the risk of getting many other types of cancer (such as stomach, bowel, breast, kidney and bladder cancers) is higher among smokers.
You may also be surprised at how many other seemingly unrelated common health conditions are influenced by smoking. For example, did you know that smoking can increase your risk of (or even make worse) conditions like stomach ulcers, diabetes, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis?
There are lots of reasons to quit if you are a smoker, but stopping isn’t always easy. The most important step is making the decision to quit. If you're looking for inspiration, we interviewed former smokers to find out how they quit for good. Check out our article How I successfully quit: Three ex-smokers share their stories.
Your first step should be to see your GP to discuss quitting methods. Options include going cold turkey, using nicotine replacement therapy, prescription medicines or counselling. If you’ve tried quitting before, you may want to try a different approach this time.
Counselling and support can be face to face or over the phone through the Quitline. There are also apps for your smartphone like My QuitBuddy and websites like Make Smoking History where you can get support and encouragement.
Finally, remember that you’re not alone. Getting support from friends and family is crucial to success when it comes to quitting. Let your loved ones know what you are doing, so they can have your back every step of the way.