There’s no such thing as a healthy smoker - especially when it comes to cancer prevention.
“The biggest myth I hear is that if someone exercises they can offset the negative effects from smoking, but that’s absolutely not the case,” says Susan Lakoski, M.D., associate professor of cancer prevention at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
It’s true that exercise is one of the best ways to improve your health, maintain a healthy weight and lower your cancer risk. But it can’t undo the damage smoking does. Even if you exercise and eat healthy, smoking will increase your risk for chronic diseases, including cancer.
Tobacco-use, including smokeless tobacco, accounts for one-third of all cancers. Smoking causes 90% of lung cancer cases. It also contributes to heart disease, stroke and lung disease.
Smoking and cancer prevention
“Smoking is one of the strongest risk-factors for every chronic disease, including heart disease and cancer,” Lakoski says.
Smoking and secondhand smoke introduce harmful toxins to the body.
“Exercise does not remove the negative effects of those toxins,” Lakoski says. “Once it’s there, it’s there.”
Smoking can’t be compared to other risk factors, like eating unhealthy food, for example. While you can offset the occasional high calorie meal by exercising, the same rules of balance do not apply to smoking.
“No two risk factors for chronic disease and cancer are the same,” Lakoski says. “And no two healthy behaviors are the same, either.”
This applies to all smokers. Even those who haven’t noticed the negative symptoms that come with tobacco-use, like a weakened immune system, shortness of breath or frequent coughing. Even if a smoker does not experience these symptoms, they’re still at increased risk for cancer and other diseases. Lakoski says that many smokers may not even be aware that are experiencing symptoms because the onset may be gradual.
“I’ve heard many people who have quit smoking exclaim that they didn’t know how much better they could feel once they quit,” she says.
Even those who smoke occasionally or consider themselves social smokers are at increased risk for cancer. There are more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke and 70 of them are linked to cancer. Smokers inhale these chemicals each time they light up a cigarette.
Tips to quit smoking
Quitting smoking is one of the best ways to lower your disease risk, improve your health and live longer. The benefits of quitting smoking start as early as 20 minutes after your last cigarette.
If you want to quit smoking, it’s important to remember you don’t have to do it alone. Talk to your doctor about what resources are available to you. If you’re an MD Anderson patient, employee or family member of a patient, you can join our Tobacco Treatment Program.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.