Monday, January 21, 2008

Quitting cigarettes and risk of cancer

...a sort of lean, puffing, self-damaging-yet-self-repairing machine

Mrs. P smoked, as did so many of her generation. She started in her 20's when her doctor suggested that smoking might improve her cold symptoms and, unfortunately, kept it up for five decades after her cold resolved. When she experienced some dizzy spells at age 70, she finally stubbed out her last cigarette.

Three months later, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. How ironic, we thought, to finally quit and be felled by cancer shortly thereafter. But now, three doctors from India have a theory that might link the one event (the end of smoking) with the other--the development of cancer. They proposed in the journal Medical Hypotheses that lung cancer may be triggered by quitting smoking. Of 312 lung cancer patients they treated in a four year period, 182 or 58% had recently quit smoking. They felt the correlation was way too strong to be a coincidence.

They hypothesized that biological mechanisms that prevent cancerous changes get strengthened through years of smoking. As long as the smoker continues to inhale noxious substances, the body copes with the mess in a habitual clean-it-up-as-best-we-can sort of way. Upon cessation of the habit, however, the doctors theorize that:

...a surge and spurt in re-activation of bodily healing and repair mechanisms of chronic smoke-damaged respiratory epithelia is induced and spurred by an abrupt discontinuation of habit, goes awry, triggering uncontrolled cell division and tumor genesis.

Remember, this is just a theory, albeit a fascinating one. I'm not going to counsel a smoking soul to keep on puffing just to avoid the post-smoking tumor risk. I think it possible that smokers with incipient lung cancer get signals from their body that cue them in that it's (past) time to quit.


Ruth said...

Interesting theory. I work with patients in a pulmonary rehab program and think that lung cancer is likely a preferable and faster way to die than suffering for years with emphysema/COPD from smoking.

JeanMac said...

I remember way back in the 50's - wondering why certain men didn't smoke - everyone (men) smoked. My Dad smoked and my Mom was one of the few "liberated" women who didn't. My Man's Mom started smoking in the 40's due to "peer pressure" from her married friends! Army family.

Mauigirl said...

Very interesting, both the theory that quitting brings it on, and your theory that people quit because they may have incipient cancer that causes them to perhaps have symptoms that make them want to quit.

I too have heard of numerous cases where people who have quit get lung cancer; but often not until a few years later. It makes me wonder whether all of us who have smoked (I quit 27 years ago) are still in peril.

Either way, my 89-year-old mother has no intention of quitting - and now I think it's just as well, thanks to this post!

EastCoastSeaGlass said...

I think more clinial observations are needed here. My sister had developed small cell LC in December of '06. The first thing she said to me was, why? I just quit in October? Huh? I wanted to scream at her about being a bit late! She had a severe pain in her back which brought her to a sports md. He gave her the usual muscle relaxers. No good.. that's when I think she put 2 and 2 together.
I have heard it over and over again, though, people who quit smoking died soon after. I have heard people in every day life say, why bother stopping, it's keeping me alive? Why start I ask...