Written by A. Wilson

At the age of 71, Judy had lived a healthy life for almost 26 years. Prior to this, she had smoked at least 6-7 cigarettes a day from age 19 up to her mid 40’s. Each time she tries to quit, she would return to the habit after a few days. She eventually battled the craving to smoke and maintained a healthy lifestyle after retiring from the busy sounds and lights of Sydney. On December 6, 2016, just weeks before Christmas, Judy had a terrible cough with a heavy feel on the upper left portion of her back, felt a small lump on her left armpit. She went on treatment for more than two months. Two days after Valentine’s Day, Judy died of stage 3 lung cancer.

Yes, smoking causes cancer. By this time, every adult in Australia over the age of 18 knows this is a fact. Lung cancer is one of the 5 most common cancers in Australia in which smoking contributes to 80% deaths to Australian women and 90% to Australian men.  According to Quit Resource Centre, tobacco smoking is one of the largest preventable illness and death in Australia. In 2010, a research showed that 2 out of 3 smokers would die 10 years early from their smoking habits. Six years after, that estimation has drastically changed, showing that tobacco smoking causes 9 out of 10 lung cancers in Australia. The same study showed that smokers have 25 times like hood of developing it depending on how long one smoke and the number of cigarettes one smoke. I am a non-smoker yet statistics show that I am still 30% likely to develop it. Last 2016, The Cancer Council Australia had diagnosed 130, 466 new cases of cancer (72,048 were males and 58, 418 females). In 2010, 13% of recorded cancer cases were smoking related cancers.

The lump found under Judy’s left armpit was an Adenocarcinoma cancer cell caused by her 24 years of smoking. Every year, an estimated 15, 000 Australians die from diseases caused by smoking. This has caused at least $31.5 billion in social, health and economic costs to the Australian Government. Yet, the Australian population in total consumed $3.26 billion worth of tobacco from (Australian Bureau of Statistics Quarters from 2012-2015). Numbers also showed that people living in the outer and remote areas of Australia tend to smoke 20.9% more than those in Inner regional areas at 16% and 13% in Major cities do. The government, federal States and the Cancer Council of Australia have been enforcing plain packaging laws, pricing increase on tobacco, and public education campaigns to help young adolescents (and those ages above 18) to quit smoking and reduce tobacco-related health risks. Others have switched to using non-nicotine electronic cigarettes (i.e vape kit that comes in a variety of fruit and menthol flavours) with the government restricting its use for child protection along with nicotine based electronic cigarettes. The TGA still determines the viability of electronic cigarettes as a cessation aids but no clinical studies can show proof it is effective and may pose health impacts in the end.

Based on current statistics, only 2 and 13 out of every 100 people diagnosed with a late stage of cancer caused by smoking will survive for 5 years or even more after they were diagnosed. Although the chances of survival is at 67%, the treatments available for any cancer depends on their stage which can include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or a combination of treatments. Even if you do not get lung cancer out of smoking, it can still lead to a wide range of diseases as infertility in women, respiratory illnesses, problems during pregnancy and birth, stroke and heart disease. You may also develop cancer of the throat, mouth, nose, pancreas, foot, liver; your smoking habits may affect pretty much almost every part of your body.

Lung cancer caused by smoking is becoming a prevalent cause of risk factors associated with other health problems including death. Many of us tend to disregard ourselves of this fact because it did not affect us directly. For the families of 15,500 Australians diagnosed and died from smoking related diseases, a slow and painful death is a big reality no one would want to go through. 30% of the 8,099 registered in 2016 that died of cancer diseases alone went through pain, family struggles, expensive medical treatments, and stress (both emotional and physical). Others go through a long wait before even feeling the bigger effects of smoking with illnesses their body could not fight. In the case of my mother in-law, she did not had a clue she will have it as it was not detected at an early stage and she was healthy for 27 years prior to having a terrible cough. Whilst there are treatments to cure any cancer caused by smoking, it can affect anyone at any age. Many support groups will help you increase your chances of quitting it. You may contact a support group near you or seek the assistance of the Cancer Council to find support groups in your area. These groups offer various support such as quitting methods and coping strategies whilst in the process of quitting. Others even offer a “quitting buddy” and quitting calculator or an app to map and check your progress. The struggle to quit may be difficult and you will go through many hurdles before you finally do. The point is you do not quit from quitting smoking.

Inoperable Lung Cancer Reasons Surgery May Not Work and Alternatives, Verywell website, Lynne Eldridge, MD, 1 Sep 2016: https://www.verywell.com/inoperable-lung-cancer-2249397
Cancer Research UK, : http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/lung-cancer/about/the-lungs
Treatment, Cancer Council NSW: https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/lung-cancer/treatment/
Smoking: new Australian data to die (or live) for February 24, 2015, The Conversation: http://theconversation.com/smoking-new-australian-data-to-die-or-live-for-37962
Deaths and disease from smoking: http://www.quit.org.au/resource-centre/facts-evidence/fact-sheets/deaths-and-disease-from-smoking
Tobacco Control key facts and figures, 29 June 2016: http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/tobacco-kff