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Doctors Urge Smokers to Commit to Quitting During Lung Cancer Awareness Month


In observance of Lung Cancer Awareness Month, Atrium Health Navicent encourages smokers to commit to quitting and is raising awareness for lifesaving lung screenings which can detect cancer earlier, when it’s easier to treat.

Smoking is the leading risk factor for lung cancer, which causes 1 in 5 cancer deaths. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined. Overall, the chance that a man will develop lung cancer in his lifetime is about 1 in 16. For a woman, the risk is about 1 in 17.

In addition to increasing your risk of lung cancer, smoking can greatly affect your heart.

“Nicotine raises your blood pressure and impacts the heart. It’s a vasoconstrictor, which means it makes your arteries smaller. If you happen to have an underlying blockage, it can make it more significant,” said Dr. Anthony Holden, an Atrium Health Navicent cardiothoracic surgeon. “Damages to your heart from smoking include coronary artery disease, blockages, stents or open-heart surgery with bypasses.”

Seek smoking cessation help

The biggest way to reduce your risk of lung cancer and to help your heart is to quit smoking. Quitting, even for a day, is an important step toward a healthier life. Other ways to reduce risk include limiting exposure to cancer-causing agents such as radon and asbestos, and eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

“People need to understand that quitting cigarettes is hard because they are so addictive. But there is treatment for people hooked on tobacco,” Holden said. “Some people can simply quit, but it’s difficult. Having an aide to help you do that is beneficial. By going to smoking cessation counseling or meeting with your physician, you can get crutches to help you become tobacco-free. Some strategies are nicotine patches or lozenges, other medications to help you wean off cigarettes or just having someone to talk to. Support helps.”

Once you've made the decision to quit, follow these steps to start your path to becoming tobacco free.

  • Get help. Quitting tobacco is not the same for everyone. Atrium Health Navicent can help you develop a personalized plan.

  • Set a quit date and post it where you can see it — in your home, car and workplace.

  • Know your triggers. Most cravings for tobacco only last three to five minutes. Find ways to be busy when the urge strikes.

  • Tell friends and family you’re quitting. A support system can keep you on the right track.

  • Learn more about quitting. Knowing the facts will make it easier to commit to a plan.

According to the American Lung Association, the benefits from quitting smoking can be felt as soon as 20 minutes after your last cigarette:

  • 20 minutes after quitting: Your heart rate drops to a normal level.

  • 12 to 24 hours after quitting: The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal. The risk of heart attack is significantly reduced

  • 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting: Your risk of having a heart attack begins to drop. Your lung function begins to improve.

  • 1 to 9 months after quitting: Your coughing and shortness of breath decrease.

  • 1 year after quitting: Your added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker's.

  • 5 to 15 years after quitting: Your risk of having a stroke is reduced to that of a nonsmoker's. Your risk of getting cancer of the mouth, throat or esophagus is half that of a smoker's.

  • 10 years after quitting: Your risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a smoker's. Your risk of getting bladder cancer is half that of a smoker’s. Your risk of getting cervical cancer or cancer of the larynx, kidney or pancreas decreases.

  • 15 years after quitting: Your risk of coronary heart disease is the same as that of a nonsmoker.

Early detection of lung cancer can save your life

Smokers with an extensive pack-year history should consider talking with a doctor about their risk of lung cancer and options for early detection. Most lung cancer cases are diagnosed at later stages when the cancer has spread to other organs. At that point, treatment options are less likely to be effective and survival is lower. But, with early detection and intervention, lung cancer can be survivable.

Low-dose CT scans, such as those offered at Atrium Health Navicent, can be helpful tools for individuals at a high risk for developing lung cancer, like smokers.

The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued recommendations for lung cancer screenings. Annual low-dose CT screenings are recommended for adults who have a 20 pack-year or more smoking history, and who smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years and who are between 50 and 80 years old. A “pack-year” is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. For example, a person could have a 20 pack-year history by smoking one pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years.

A study on early detection of lung cancer found that the low-dose cancer screening test can reduce mortality by 20 percent for those at high risk.

Atrium Health Navicent offers CT lung screenings at several locations, including:

  • Atrium Health Navicent Imaging & Laboratory (1650 Hardeman Ave., Macon)

  • Atrium Health Navicent Baldwin (821 N. Cobb St., Milledgeville)

  • Atrium Health Navicent Peach (1960 Ga. 247 Connector, Byron)

  • Atrium Health Navicent Imaging Monroe (120 N. Lee St., Suite B, Forsyth)

Atrium Health Navicent is here to help

If you have had a lung nodule found on a CT screening, it is important to follow up with your primary care provider to determine your risk and next steps.

“Your low-dose CT screening will be reviewed by doctors and if you fit certain criteria, we follow with regular CT scan or biopsy,” Holden said. “With these scans, we can find tiny pulmonary nodules that can be taken out before they have a chance to get large and invasive. This leads to a pretty good success rate with treatment. We try to do everything minimally invasive, with a small scope or robotic reception. People are on their feet the next day; it’s truly amazing.”

The Advanced Lung Clinic at Atrium Health Navicent Peyton Anderson Cancer Center was established to help patients get treatment for lung cancer as early as possible. The clinic provides advanced, comprehensive care when a lung nodule (a small, round abnormal growth of tissue) is discovered by accident or through lung cancer screening. Most lung nodules are noncancerous, but tests are needed to make sure.

The Advanced Lung Clinic can evaluate and manage pulmonary conditions using the latest, most technologically advanced medical facilities and equipment. The clinic offers services such as endobronchial bronchoscopies, simple bronchoscopy procedures, transbronchial lung biopsies and ultrasound-guided biopsies.

For patients with lung cancer, a full spectrum of treatment options is available right here in central Georgia. Atrium Health Navicent Peyton Anderson Cancer Center offers services ranging from prevention and diagnostics to treatment and survivorship all at one location, creating a one-stop place for cancer care.

“Atrium Health Navicent Peyton Anderson Cancer Center is a hidden gem. There’s nothing for lung cancer treatment that you’d need to go out of town to get. We have an exceptional and highly skilled team and I’m really proud to be part of it,” Holden said. “We do it all here, we’re close to home and we do it well.”

If you or a loved one has concerns about cancer risk factors, available screenings or cancer care, contact Atrium Health Navicent Peyton Anderson Cancer Center at 478-633-3000. For information about resources for how to quit smoking, call 478-633-2614. For information about being referred to the Advanced Lung Clinic, call 478-633-8850. To find a doctor, visit and click “Find A Doctor.”


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