ON THE JOB: Mark A. Lewis, M.D.
Q: Nov. 15 is the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smoke Out. Why is this important?
A: Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer death among men and women, killing more Americans each year (18 people every hour) than colon, prostate and breast cancer combined. Screening methods for lung cancer are improving, but lung cancer is often advanced and difficult to treat at the time of its discovery, so prevention is definitely the best strategy. One in seven smokers will die of lung cancer, so we welcome the Great American Smoke Out as a life-changing and life-saving opportunity to encourage quitting and promote strategies for quitting successfully.
Q: In what ways does smoking impact your patients’ health?
A: In the context of my oncology practice, most of my patients who smoke have already developed lung cancer by the time I meet them. But even in those cases, there are still strong reasons for them to quit.
Several of the chemotherapy drugs used to treat lung cancer have greater effectiveness in the absence of cigarette smoke. (For those without cancer), beyond the reduced risk of lung cancer –as well as cancers of the mouth, throat, gut and bladder – quitting improves their lung function and enhances their cardiovascular health as well, decreasing their risk of heart attack and stroke.
Q: How soon do patients see the benefits of quitting?
A: Perhaps the most immediate impact is financial. On average, smokers spend over $2,000 a year on cigarettes. Within two weeks, mucus production is decreased, circulation improves, and breathing becomes easier. A year after quitting, a smoker’s risk of a heart attack goes down by 50 percent. Five years after quitting, their risks of stroke and heart attack are nearly the same as in people who have never smoked.
Q: What is the best method for quitting?
A: The nicotine in tobacco is highly addictive, and no one pretends that quitting is easy. I recommend making preparations to quit.
Becoming a nonsmoker requires modifying your environment and your behavior. Remove visual reminders of smoking from your home, office, and car. Remove yourself from situations that you know will tempt you to smoke. Withdrawal symptoms can be eased by getting nicotine from other sources, like patches, gum, lozenges, or nasal spray, but these methods work best within a supervised program for tobacco cessation.
About Mark A. Lewis, M.D.:
COMPANY: The MD Anderson Sugar Land Regional Care Center
EXPERIENCE: Four years of Internal Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine; three years of Hematology/Oncology at the Mayo Clinic
EDUCATION: B.A., Rice University; M.D., Baylor College of Medicine