Lung Cancer

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The No. 1 thing you can do to prevent lung cancer is to avoid tobacco smoke. Don't start to smoke if you do not already, and if you do, quit (or keep quitting until you are able to stop for good). New research seems to suggest that quitting at any time, even if you have been smoking for many years, still lowers your risk of getting lung cancer. In addition, try to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke from other people's cigarettes, since that, too, puts you at risk. This means asking family members or visitors who smoke to do so outside. It's also a good idea to avoid spending a lot of time in public places, including some bars and restaurants, where many people are lighting up. You can take steps in other areas of your life to lower your risk:

  • Diet and lifestyle. There's some evidence that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help prevent lung cancer. Regular exercise may also help.
  • Beta carotene. Though this antioxidant, which is related to vitamin A, is found in the fruits and vegetables that may help prevent cancer, studies have shown that too much of the substance—in the form of concentrated pills and supplements—may actually increase the odds of developing lung cancer in smokers.
  • Chemical exposure. The substances listed in the "risk factors" section should be avoided. To find out if your home has elevated levels of radon, use one of the several kits available for this purpose in hardware stores. The most reliable kits take measurements over three or more months.

Some cases of lung cancer cannot be explained by any of these factors and cannot be prevented. In the future, genetic tests may explain these cases and allow susceptible individuals to monitor lungs more closely for the earliest signs of cancer.

Tips on how to stop smoking

It's hard to quit smoking, but it's also the most effective way to ward off lung cancer (as well as a host of other diseases including many other cancers). While even former smokers do get the disease, their risk is lower than that of active smokers, so remember, it's never too late to quit.

  • Don't toss your butts right away. Experts suggest making a plan rather than quitting impulsively. Pick a time when you aren't likely to face other big life stresses but also are busy enough that you're not going to be sitting around with little to do other than miss your cigarettes.
  • Anticipate, anticipate, anticipate. Most smokers have specific "triggers" that signal that it's time to smoke. For some, it's the first cup of coffee in the morning; others can't imagine spending time with certain friends without smoking together. So remove as many cues as possible--cut out the coffee for a while, hang out more with your nonsmoking friends, or meet your smoking buddies in places where you aren't allowed to smoke. Even a favorite easy chair may be a trigger, especially if it smells like smoke. Sit elsewhere!
  • Consider pharmacological help. People who use nicotine replacements like gum and patches are almost twice as successful at quitting as those who don't. Some antidepressants, including buproprion, sold under the name Zyban, also can be effective as antismoking aids.
  • Don't get discouraged. Most people make several attempts before finally quitting for good. Don't beat yourself up if you backslide; just try to figure out what went wrong, and pick a new quit date.

For more on how to stop, see our smoking cessation guide. The federal government (see Smokefree.gov) and many state governments have programs that offer tips and plans on how to quit. Good counseling should include information, motivation, and tips and can be done over the phone as well as in person. The American Cancer Society (ACS) also has a toll-free number where you can seek free help and counseling services (1-800-227-2345).

Last reviewed on 7/28/09

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