Questions About Smoking, Tobacco, and Health

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What can I do to help with any damage that may have been caused by smoking?

If you use or have used tobacco, tell your health care provider so he or she can be sure that you get the right preventive health care. It’s well known that tobacco use puts you at risk for certain illnesses. This means part of your health care should focus on related screening and preventive measures to help you stay as healthy as possible. For example, you will want to be sure that you regularly check the inside of your mouth for any changes, and have your mouth checked by a doctor or dentist if you do find any changes or problems. The American Cancer Society recommends that regular check-ups include exams of the mouth. By doing this, tobacco users may be able to find changes such as leukoplakia (white patches on the mouth membranes) early. This may help prevent oral cancer.

You should also be aware of any of the following:

  • Any change in a cough (for instance, you cough up more mucus than usual)
  • A new cough
  • Coughing up blood
  • Hoarseness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Less tolerance for exercise (getting out of breath easily when active)
  • Wheezing, whistling, or rattling with breathing
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • General fatigue (feeling tired all the time)
  • Frequent or repeated respiratory infections

Any of these could be signs of lung cancer or a number of other lung problems, and you should see a doctor right away.

Older people who are at higher risk for lung cancer because they’ve been long-term heavy smokers may want to discuss with their doctors whether screening is appropriate for them. The American Cancer Society has guidelines on the use of low dose computed tomography (CT) to screen for lung cancer in certain people at high risk. For more detailed information on this, please see Lung Cancer Prevention and Early Detection.

Remember that tobacco users have a higher risk for other cancers too, depending on the way they use tobacco. You can learn more about the types of cancer you may be at risk for by reading our document that discusses the type of tobacco you use (for example, Smokeless Tobacco, Cigar Smoking, or Cigarette Smoking). Other risk factors for these cancers may be more important than your use of tobacco, but you should know the additional risks that might apply to you.

If you’re concerned about your health because of your tobacco use, see a health care provider as soon as possible. Taking care of yourself, talking to a doctor about screening tests that may be right for you, and getting treatment for early problems will give you the best chance for treatment success. The best way, though, to take care of yourself and decrease your risk for life-threatening lung problems is to quit using tobacco.

Last Medical Review: 02/13/2014
Last Revised: 02/13/2014