April 20th, 2011
08:45 AM ET

How quickly does lung cancer develop for smokers?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Wednesdays, it's Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society.

I started smoking socially in high school and still do. How long would it take for someone like me develop lung cancer?

Asked by Tom of Cleveland

Expert Answer

Dear Tom,

There have been several questions about smoking recently. I thought your question really important. In answer to it, there is no such thing as a safe amount of cigarette smoking. I urge you to quit. Studies show that it is far easier for a light smoker to quit than someone who smokes a pack and a half or more per day.

Also keep in mind there is no such thing as a safer cigarette. The risk of lung cancer does increase with both the number of cigarettes smoked per day and the number of years a person has smoked. A 35-year-old male who smokes fewer than 25 cigarettes per day is estimated to have a 9% lifetime chance of dying of lung cancer, whereas 25 cigarettes per day or more gives him an 18% lifetime chance of dying of lung cancer. There are some estimates that lifetime risk of lung cancer in a very heavy smoker is about 30% overall, whereas it is 1% or less in nonsmokers. This translates into about a third of very heavy smokers developing lung cancer. Also, 15 to 20 of every 100 patients who have lung cancer are lifelong nonsmokers. Some get it because of secondhand smoke and some get it for unknown reasons.

People who start smoking at younger ages are at higher risk later in life. Lung cancer rates begin increasing in the mid to late 40s and peak in the late 70s. Many people think low tar or filtered cigarettes are safer. The truth is most people will compensate for these cigarettes by inhaling deeper and/or smoking more cigarettes in order to satisfy their need for nicotine.

While you ask about lung cancer, it is important to remember that occasional cigarette use can increase risk of cardiovascular disease dramatically. This is very pertinent, because cigarette smoking kills more people from cardiovascular diseases (heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease) than all cancers combined. It is a common observation that a town that makes smoking in public illegal lowers it heart attack rate within six months. This is primarily because the decrease in secondhand smoke exposure decreases the number of heart attacks in nonsmokers. Just think about the dose of smoke to even a casual smoker over six months compared to a nonsmoker exposed to occasional secondhand smoke.

Cigarette smoking is linked to a number of diseases. Lung cancer is most famously associated, but tobacco smoking causes cancers of the head and neck (mouth, throat, sinuses), esophagus, stomach, kidney, pancreas, bladder, uterine cervix and even certain types of leukemia. Fourteen different cancers in all are caused by smoking. Smoking also causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, such as bronchitis and emphysema. It worsens asthma. Smoking is linked to high blood pressure, ulcers, osteoporosis, diabetes and reproductive disorders such as infertility, miscarriage and premature menopause.

There are significant benefits to smoking cessation. Most tobacco-related disease can be prevented if one stops smoking by age 40. Even for older people and for those with tobacco-related disease, there is significant benefit to smoking cessation. Short-term, cessation causes cravings, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating and restlessness. Some may have a worsening of the smoker's cough. Long term, many complain of weight gain and increased depression.

Someone who is thinking of quitting should seek counseling from a physician or other experienced health care professional. Nicotine gum, nicotine patches and some other medications can be very helpful with smoking cessation. Counseling through telephone quit lines and internet support groups can also be helpful.

soundoff (1,948 Responses)
  1. Chae Dietterick

    It’s hard to come by experienced people for this topic, however, you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks


    June 2, 2021 at 06:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. redtube us

    After I originally commented I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I recieve four emails with the same comment. Is there a means you can remove me from that service? Cheers!


    June 2, 2021 at 07:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. dent devil san diego

    Good post. I learn something new and challenging on sites I stumbleupon everyday. It will always be exciting to read articles from other writers and practice something from their sites.


    June 2, 2021 at 07:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. EncoxGtv

    Verapamil online pharmacy denmark canada drugs wichita ks

    June 2, 2021 at 09:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Gennie Bessey


    June 2, 2021 at 10:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Van Collision Repair Shop


    June 2, 2021 at 13:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. rv remodel near me

    After I originally commented I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get four emails with the exact same comment. There has to be a means you are able to remove me from that service? Kudos!


    June 2, 2021 at 16:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Evan Sannella

    I blog often and I truly appreciate your information. This great article has truly peaked my interest. I am going to bookmark your site and keep checking for new information about once per week. I opted in for your RSS feed as well.


    June 2, 2021 at 16:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. semi truck shop near me


    June 2, 2021 at 16:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Travel Van Repair Shop


    June 2, 2021 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. horse trailer painting

    Right here is the right webpage for anyone who would like to find out about this topic. You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I actually will need to…HaHa). You definitely put a brand new spin on a topic that's been written about for many years. Wonderful stuff, just excellent!


    June 2, 2021 at 20:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. repair blinds near me

    Having read this I believed it was really informative. I appreciate you taking the time and energy to put this article together. I once again find myself personally spending way too much time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worthwhile!


    June 2, 2021 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Van Upgrades

    Pretty! This was an extremely wonderful post. Thank you for supplying this information.


    June 2, 2021 at 21:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. rv furniture center


    June 2, 2021 at 22:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. monrovia collision center


    June 3, 2021 at 00:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Glady Zurita


    June 3, 2021 at 01:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Erich Morganti

    This is a really good tip especially to those fresh to the blogosphere. Short but very precise info… Many thanks for sharing this one. A must read article!


    June 3, 2021 at 01:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. RV TV Near Me


    June 3, 2021 at 02:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. RV Refrigerator Riverside


    June 3, 2021 at 03:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Sprinter Door Repair Panel


    June 3, 2021 at 04:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Digital Marketing Companies Near Me

    Aw, this was an exceptionally good post. Spending some time and actual effort to produce a really good article… but what can I say… I hesitate a lot and never manage to get nearly anything done.


    June 3, 2021 at 04:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. EncoxHtf

    cialis 200 mg no prescription cheap cialis online overnight shipping cialis erection

    June 3, 2021 at 05:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Mercedes Sprinter Service Center Near Me


    June 3, 2021 at 07:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Sprinter Door Repair Panel


    June 3, 2021 at 07:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. RV Technician Los Angeles

    Very good post. I will be facing some of these issues as well..


    June 3, 2021 at 10:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Video Marketing Consultant

    Hi! I could have sworn I’ve been to this web site before but after looking at a few of the posts I realized it’s new to me. Anyways, I’m definitely delighted I stumbled upon it and I’ll be book-marking it and checking back often!


    June 3, 2021 at 10:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. RV Refrigerator California

    I enjoy looking through a post that can make men and women think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!


    June 3, 2021 at 11:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Local Marketing Services


    June 3, 2021 at 11:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. RV Cabinet Orange County


    June 3, 2021 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Repair My 2006 Dodge Sprinter 3500 Rv

    Great post. I'm experiencing some of these issues as well..


    June 3, 2021 at 12:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Sprinter Van Repair In Huntington Beach


    June 3, 2021 at 12:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Local Marketing Business


    June 3, 2021 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. EncoxDev

    rx pharmacy coupons canadian pharmacy drugs online Diflucan

    June 3, 2021 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. cialis

    tadalafil troche cost cialis tablets generic tadalafil from uk

    June 3, 2021 at 15:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. buy cialis pills

    how long does tadalafil last cialis 20mg tadalafil peptide

    June 3, 2021 at 18:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. bucket truck services


    June 3, 2021 at 18:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. blind repair orange county

    I quite like reading an article that will make men and women think. Also, thank you for allowing for me to comment!


    June 3, 2021 at 19:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. horse trailers california

    Your style is unique compared to other folks I have read stuff from. I appreciate you for posting when you've got the opportunity, Guess I will just book mark this page.


    June 3, 2021 at 19:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Los Angeles Sprinter Repair


    June 3, 2021 at 20:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. camper body repair


    June 3, 2021 at 20:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. box truck repair shop

    Spot on with this write-up, I actually believe this website needs far more attention. Iíll probably be returning to see more, thanks for the info!


    June 3, 2021 at 20:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. repair rv toilet


    June 3, 2021 at 22:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. geico store near me


    June 3, 2021 at 22:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Repair Shops Near Me

    I want to to thank you for this good read!! I definitely loved every bit of it. I have you saved as a favorite to look at new things you postÖ


    June 3, 2021 at 23:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. roof repair orange county ca


    June 3, 2021 at 23:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. rv tire repair near me

    You ought to be a part of a contest for one of the most useful blogs on the internet. I'm going to highly recommend this blog!


    June 4, 2021 at 04:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. breakfast restaurants near me


    June 4, 2021 at 05:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Rv Mercedes Sprinter Service Center Near Me

    This is a topic that's close to my heart... Take care! Exactly where are your contact details though?


    June 4, 2021 at 05:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Repair Conversion Van Blinds

    Aw, this was an exceptionally nice post. Taking the time and actual effort to create a superb articleÖ but what can I sayÖ I put things off a lot and never manage to get anything done.


    June 4, 2021 at 05:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. semi shop near me


    June 4, 2021 at 06:13 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37

Leave a Reply to Eye Appointments Near Me


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.