Can the Effects of Smoking Be Reversed?

From the day a cigarette smoker quits the habit, healthy changes begin to occur within the body.

People can lower their risk of a heart attack or stroke within a few weeks of quitting, says Bruce Johnson, MD, a medical oncologist with the Lowe Center for Thoracic Oncology at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. Those who quit smoking and remain non-smokers for five to 10 years can cut their risk of cancer in half compared to people who keep smoking.

Bruce Johnson, MD, director of the Lowe Center for Throacic Oncology

In general, the earlier in life one quits smoking, the more time one has to achieve these benefits. But even those who quit after age 50 can reduce their risk of dying early from smoking-related causes.

Johnson offers these tips on how to quit.

  • Choose a method, such as replacing cigarettes with nicotine-delivery products or gradual withdrawal. Ask your doctor if antidepressants may be of benefit.
  • Avoid triggers. Get rid of cigarettes, lighters, matches, and ashtrays.
  • Go for a walk. Exercise can decrease cravings.
  • Follow the Four “Ds”:
    1. Deep breaths
    2. Drink lots of water
    3. Do something to avoid focusing on cigarette cravings
    4. Delay reaching for a cigarette – the urge will pass

On average, it takes at least three attempts to quit and stay tobacco-free. For people who have previously tried to quit and went back to smoking, it’s important to pick another date and try again. Johnson reminds them, “It’s never too late to quit.”

If you’re a current or former long-term smoker and are worried about lung cancer, Brigham and Women’s Hospital offers a lung cancer screening program for long-term smokers over the age of 50.