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. Emergency RV Repair Near Me


    June 26, 2021 at 04:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Sprinter Repair Orange County


    June 26, 2021 at 04:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. RV Brake Repair Near Me

    I'd like to thank you for the efforts you've put in penning this website. I'm hoping to see the same high-grade content by you later on as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has encouraged me to get my very own blog now 😉


    June 26, 2021 at 06:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. RV Repair Shops Nearby


    June 26, 2021 at 07:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. RV Mobile Repair Service Near Me

    Can I simply just say what a relief to discover an individual who genuinely understands what they're discussing on the web. You actually know how to bring a problem to light and make it important. A lot more people should read this and understand this side of your story. I was surprised you are not more popular because you most certainly possess the gift.


    June 26, 2021 at 08:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Leo Goldermann

    An outstanding share! I've just forwarded this onto a coworker who has been doing a little research on this. And he in fact ordered me breakfast due to the fact that I found it for him... lol. So allow me to reword this.... Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending some time to talk about this subject here on your site.


    June 26, 2021 at 09:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. RV Air Conditioning Repair Near Me

    That is a good tip particularly to those fresh to the blogosphere. Short but very precise infoÖ Many thanks for sharing this one. A must read article!


    June 26, 2021 at 10:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. RV Glass Repair Near Me

    Hello! I could have sworn Iíve been to your blog before but after going through a few of the articles I realized itís new to me. Anyways, Iím definitely happy I came across it and Iíll be book-marking it and checking back often!


    June 26, 2021 at 11:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Sprinter Repair Shops Near Me

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


    June 26, 2021 at 11:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. pharmaceptica

    hydroxycholorquin https://pharmaceptica.com/

    June 26, 2021 at 11:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Dalia Coyan

    Hi there, I do think your web site could possibly be having web browser compatibility issues. When I take a look at your blog in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in IE, it has some overlapping issues. I merely wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other than that, fantastic site!


    June 26, 2021 at 12:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. RV Repair Shops Near My Location


    June 26, 2021 at 12:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. RV Repair California

    I blog often and I really thank you for your content. Your article has truly peaked my interest. I'm going to take a note of your blog and keep checking for new details about once a week. I opted in for your RSS feed too.


    June 26, 2021 at 14:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. RV Repair Fountain Valley


    June 26, 2021 at 15:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. stuttering john podcast

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this article and also the rest of the site is very good.


    June 26, 2021 at 20:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Types Of Leadership

    Right here is the right webpage for anyone who would like to find out about this topic. You know so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I really would want toÖHaHa). You certainly put a brand new spin on a subject that has been discussed for years. Wonderful stuff, just excellent!


    June 26, 2021 at 21:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Army Definition Of Leadership


    June 26, 2021 at 21:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Authoritarian Leadership


    June 26, 2021 at 22:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Leadership Articles


    June 26, 2021 at 22:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. pharmaceptica.com

    tadalafil medication https://pharmaceptica.com/

    June 27, 2021 at 00:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Full Range Leadership Model

    There is definately a lot to find out about this subject. I really like all of the points you've made.


    June 27, 2021 at 01:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. critical role podcast campaign 2

    Having read this I believed it was extremely enlightening. I appreciate you taking the time and energy to put this informative article together. I once again find myself personally spending a lot of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worth it!


    June 27, 2021 at 01:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. golic and wingo podcast

    When I initially commented I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on each time a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the exact same comment. Is there a means you can remove me from that service? Cheers!


    June 27, 2021 at 01:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Best Leadership Podcast 2016


    June 27, 2021 at 01:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. joe rogan podcast schedule

    Hello there! This blog post could not be written much better! Reading through this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept talking about this. I will send this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a very good read. I appreciate you for sharing!


    June 27, 2021 at 02:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. the dana show podcast

    This site was... how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something which helped me. Cheers!


    June 27, 2021 at 02:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. pod save america podcast

    Your style is unique compared to other folks I have read stuff from. Thank you for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this web site.


    June 27, 2021 at 02:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. crime junkies podcast

    Hey there! I just wish to give you a big thumbs up for the great info you have got here on this post. I am returning to your blog for more soon.


    June 27, 2021 at 02:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Leadership Training

    I'd like to thank you for the efforts you've put in penning this blog. I'm hoping to view the same high-grade blog posts by you in the future as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my very own site now 😉


    June 27, 2021 at 03:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. dave ramsey podcast

    This website was... how do you say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something that helped me. Appreciate it!


    June 27, 2021 at 04:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Leadership In Spanish


    June 27, 2021 at 04:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. popular podcast

    Saved as a favorite, I really like your web site!


    June 27, 2021 at 05:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Dr Henry Cloud Leadership U Podcast

    Howdy! This blog post couldnít be written any better! Looking at this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept talking about this. I will send this article to him. Pretty sure he'll have a very good read. Thanks for sharing!


    June 27, 2021 at 06:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. nancy podcast

    Great post! We will be linking to this particularly great content on our website. Keep up the great writing.


    June 27, 2021 at 08:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. bagman podcast


    June 27, 2021 at 08:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Organizational Leadership


    June 27, 2021 at 09:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. small town murder podcast

    Good site you have here.. Itís hard to find high quality writing like yours nowadays. I truly appreciate people like you! Take care!!


    June 27, 2021 at 10:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. What Is Thought Leadership

    I was very happy to find this great site. I wanted to thank you for your time for this particularly fantastic read!! I definitely appreciated every bit of it and I have you saved as a favorite to look at new things on your website.


    June 27, 2021 at 11:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. google play podcast portal


    June 27, 2021 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Christian Leadership University

    Aw, this was an extremely good post. Taking the time and actual effort to create a good articleÖ but what can I sayÖ I procrastinate a lot and never manage to get nearly anything done.


    June 27, 2021 at 12:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. paper ghosts podcast


    June 27, 2021 at 12:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Leadership Assessment


    June 27, 2021 at 12:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. garage logic podcast

    I quite like looking through a post that can make people think. Also, many thanks for allowing for me to comment!


    June 27, 2021 at 12:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Leadership Roles

    Itís hard to come by experienced people about this subject, but you seem like you know what youíre talking about! Thanks


    June 27, 2021 at 13:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Rv Dent Repair Shop

    Good article! We are linking to this great post on our site. Keep up the great writing.


    June 27, 2021 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. RV Repair Seal Beach


    June 27, 2021 at 17:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Sprinter Van Collision Repair Shop


    June 27, 2021 at 17:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. 2012 Mercedez Benz Sprinter Repair

    Pretty! This has been an extremely wonderful post. Many thanks for providing this info.


    June 27, 2021 at 17:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. RV Repair Places Near Me

    Spot on with this write-up, I honestly believe this website needs much more attention. Iíll probably be returning to read through more, thanks for the info!


    June 27, 2021 at 17:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Sprinter Van Upgrades


    June 27, 2021 at 22:23 | 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 Digital Marketing Specialist


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.