Quitting smoking can benefit health fast

LOS ANGELES Liz Riley knew she had to quit smoking, but she just couldn't do it.

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"I feared for my own health," said Liz.

She started smoking when she was 15 years old.

"I smoked for 30 years, and I knew that if I continued to smoke that I probably would die," said Liz.

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at just how quickly women can decrease their risk of serious health problems by deciding to stop smoking. Harvard School of Public Health researchers found for certain diseases, it doesn't take long.

"There's such a great decline in risk for some diseases, that women who are contemplating whether or not to quit really see a benefit quickly with smoking cessation," said Stacy Kenfield from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Researchers studied about 100,000 women from 1980 through 2004 and compared mortality rates for various diseases among current and former smokers to those who had never smoked at all.

"Within the first five years of quitting smoking, we saw a 21 percent reduction in the risk of dying of lung cancer and a 50 percent reduction in the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease -- specifically coronary heart disease," said Kenfield.

And within 20 years after quitting smoking, some women's risk of dying from cardiovascular disease drops even further comparable to the level of a non-smoker.

"Once you remove the carcinogens from tobacco smoke from your body, your body is able to repair itself," said Kenfield.

Liz says that's what she experienced. She finally quit six years ago with the help of a counselor.

For more information:

Context: Smoking is associated with an increased risk of total and cause-specific death, but the rate of mortality risk reduction after quitting compared with continuing to smoke is uncertain. There is inadequate or insufficient evidence to infer the presence or absence of a causal relationship between smoking and ovarian cancer and colorectal cancer.

Objective: To assess the relationship between cigarette smoking and smoking cessation on total and cause-specific mortality in women. Design, Setting, and Participants Prospective observational study of 104 519 female participants in the Nurses' Health Study with follow-up from 1980 to 2004.

Main Outcome Measure: Hazard ratios (HRs) for total mortality, further categorized into vascular and respiratory diseases, lung cancer, other cancers, and other causes.

Results: A total of 12 483 deaths occurred in this cohort, 4485 (35.9 percent) among never smokers, 3602 (28.9 percent) among current smokers, and 4396 (35.2 percent) among past smokers. Compared with never smokers, current smokers had an increased risk of total mortality (HR, 2.81; 95 percent confidence interval [CI], 2.68-2.95) and all major cause-specific mortality. The HR for cancers classified by the 2004 surgeon general's report to be smoking-related was 7.25 (95 percent CI, 6.43-8.18) and 1.58 (95 percent CI, 1.45-1.73) for other cancers. Compared with never smokers, the HR for colorectal cancer was 1.63 (95 percent CI, 1.29-2.05) for current smokers and 1.23 (95 percent CI, 1.02-1.49) for former smokers. A significant association was not observed for ovarian cancer. Significant trends were observed for earlier age at initiation of smoking for total mortality (P = .003), respiratory disease mortality (P = .001), and all smoking-related cancer mortality (P = .001). The excess risk for all-cause mortality decreases to the level of a never smoker 20 years after quitting, with different time frames for risk reduction observed across outcomes. Approximately 64 percent of deaths among current smokers and 28 percent of deaths among former smokers were attributable to cigarette smoking.

Conclusions: Most of the excess risk of vascular mortality due to smoking in women may be eliminated rapidly upon cessation and within 20 years for lung diseases. Postponing the age of smoking initiation reduces the risk of respiratory disease, lung cancer, and other smoking-related cancer deaths but has little effect on other cause-specific mortality. These data suggest that smoking is associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer mortality but not ovarian cancer mortality.

Source: Journal of the American Medical Association) Smoking and Smoking Cessation in Relation to Mortality in Women by Stacey A. Kenfield, ScD; Meir J. Stampfer, MD, DrPH; Bernard A. Rosner, PhD; Graham A. Colditz, MD, DrPH

Author Affiliations: Departments of Epidemiology (Drs Kenfield and Stampfer) and Biostatistics (Dr Rosner), Harvard School of Public Health, and Channing Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School (Drs Kenfield, Stampfer, and Rosner), Boston, Massachusetts; and Department of Surgery, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, Missouri (Dr Colditz).


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