New estimates from the World Cancer Research Fund have highlighted the lifestyle factors responsible for around 155,000 cases of cancer each year.
The organisation believes that eating healthily, being active, maintaining a healthy weight and stopping smoking could prevent some 40% of diagnoses.
The figures come after Cancer Research UK said “ending smoking” would slash the number of cancer deaths which are linked to deprivation, and a study published last week in the journal PLOS suggested these numbers would drop from 27,200 to 16,500 in England alone – and it’s not just lung cancer rates that are affected.
“Smoking puts people at higher risk of multiple cancers including in the mouth, throat and bladder,” says Dr Naveen Puri, associate clinical director at Bupa Health Clinics.
“It also contributes to your arteries narrowing and makes your blood more likely to clot, meaning smokers have a significantly higher risk of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, and dementia.”
The most common symptoms of throat cancer are persistent hoarseness, a sore throat lasting longer than four to six weeks, and trouble swallowing. A sore throat associated with ear pain is another symptom you should have checked by a GP.
The health benefits of stopping smoking are undeniable, but when it comes to giving up cigarettes, there are a lot of misconceptions out there. Here, Puri busts five of the most common myths about quitting…
1. It’s too late for me to quit
If you’ve smoked for many years, you might think there’s no point because the damage is already done – that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Stopping smoking isn’t easy, but the benefits could add years to your life and these benefits start from the first hour that you stop,” Puri says. “The risks you face as a smoker lower from the very first day that you quit.”
2. All it takes is willpower
Having the determination and motivation to quit is extremely helpful, but you don’t have to rely on willpower alone.
“Research has found that e-cigarettes can help you give up smoking,” Puri says. “There are different medications that your doctor can prescribe to you, too, as well as over the counter smoking cessation aids, such as nicotine gums and lozenges, and nicotine inhalators, which can all help to reduce your cravings.”
3. You must go cold turkey
So, you’ve decided you want to quit. Do you have to throw away all your cigarettes and go cold turkey?
“You’re more likely to give up if your goal is achievable,” Puri says. “If you start slowly, you’re likely to succeed or even exceed your expectations. You may find it easier to quit for one, three or five days as a first step, and see how you feel.”
He suggests committing to a date when you’ll stop, or trying 28 days smoke-free, the same way you might do Dry January or Sober October: “Experts recommend having a goal in place, because it gives you something to work towards and aim for, meaning you can create a plan.”
4. The cravings will be unbearable
Giving up smoking is about more than just not buying cigarettes. It’s important to understand the lifestyle triggers that can increase your cravings.
“Many people smoke when they have intense negative emotions, for example, when you feel anxious or stressed,” Puri says. Or you may associate smoking with certain activities, such as drinking alcohol, finishing a meal, or hanging out with friends.
“You may find it helpful to find a replacement – for example, chewing gum,” he continues. “Letting your friends know you’ve quit and to avoid smoking near you, and taking some slow, deep breaths if you feel stressed.”
5. You have to do it alone
“Stopping smoking can be more effective if you choose your quit method and then establish a social support network to help motivate you to stick with this when your willpower starts to wane,” Puri says.
It’s completely normal to have moments of weakness and it can help to plan for what to do in the event that you’re about to ‘fall off the wagon’.
“Tell friends, family, and colleagues that you’re planning to quit and ask for their support,” Puri advises. “Get social support from healthcare professionals too, like your local stop smoking service. You’re up to four times more likely to stop with their help.”