The American Cancer Society estimates about 228,150 new cases of lung cancer and 142,670 deaths from lung cancer in 2019, making it the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women. In fact, more people die of lung cancer than from colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.
Fortunately, smoking cessation efforts have increased as understanding of addiction has improved. Today, comprehensive programs that include a combination of medications, nicotine replacement and behavioral therapy are helping more Tennesseans quit smoking for good.
Confronting addiction head-on
“Unfortunately we continue to diagnose lung cancer at the latest stage, stage 4. Our goal is to find cancer at early stages, offer more cessation programs, and to discourage everyone, including young adults and children, from ever picking up nicotine filled tobacco products,” said Cary Ralph, RN, Oncology Nurse Navigator at Williamson Medical Center. Ralph meets one-on-one with newly diagnosed patients and facilitates the smoking cessation class, which will provide participants with skills and techniques to support quitting. Attendees also learn about nicotine’s effect on the brain, stress management and weight management. While some smokers are successful at quitting alone or going cold turkey, Ralph said the majority of smokers require a combination of counseling and medical intervention to successfully quit smoking.
E-cigarettes are being used to help traditional cigarette smokers kick the habit. Utilized as a step-down tool for nicotine addiction, the American Cancer Society recognizes that the long-term effects of e-cigarettes are still unknown. Unfortunately, all forms of nicotine wreak havoc on the cardiac system, starting with constriction of blood vessels and impacting bodily organs. This is a strategy the patient needs to discuss with their physician before starting it.
Learning to break the vicious cycle of dependency is key.
“Most smokers have seen plenty of information stating that smoking and other nicotine products like chewing tobacco cause cancer, but physical addiction is extremely difficult to overcome,” Ralph said. “It affects your brain so quickly and provides immediate relief of stress, but it’s temporary and tells your brain to reach for that next cigarette to feel good again. It’s a chronic condition that requires repeated intervention for success.”
More options for better outcomes
While stats related to smoking outcomes are daunting, there’s also a silver lining: Smoking-related diseases are also the most preventable causes of death worldwide, accounting for 32 percent of cancer deaths. In addition, lung cancer screening is offered to patients who meet certain criteria. Identifying these patients and providing low-dose CT screenings will help care providers find lung cancer at earlier stages when it is curable. However, when cancer is identified early, patients must quit their nicotine habit for treatments to be the most effective.
“Very few people can do it alone,” Ralph said. Combination therapy is now the gold standard in smoking cessation and often includes repeated high intensity behavioral therapy.
Supporting loved ones
While medical intervention is critical, Ralph said the support of friends and family is equally important. “Don’t ever doubt someone’s ability to quit smoking,” she said. “Your faith in them reminds them they can do it.” Nagging, scolding and guilt trips are equally ineffective. Ralph encourages loved ones to show extra patience during the cessation process, as symptoms can last two weeks or longer. “Don’t take it personally if they become grumpy, because symptoms are very real,” she said. “Being understanding during this period is so important.” And don’t forget to celebrate milestones, whether it’s one day or one week cigarette-free. “If they relapse, encourage them to keep trying,” Ralph said. “Don’t give up on them when they give up on themselves. Next time it could be quitting forever.”
There’s no question smoking cessation is a grueling, exhausting process, but those who succeed see very quick improvements in lung, skin and blood pressure health. For many, the best motivator is the promise of a longer life. “Smoking is cancer,” Ralph said. “But lung cancer is often preventable. Even if you have lung cancer and quit, your outcome will be better. It’s never too late to quit smoking.”
About Cary Ralph
Cary Ralph, RN, is the Oncology Nurse Navigator at Williamson Medical Center. She can be reached at Williamson Medical Group by calling (615) 790-4105.Share this Article