Jennings' death is reminder of smoking dangers

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

When Mike Shain heard that ABC news anchor Peter Jennings died, his first thoughts were about an esteemed fellow television journalist who made his mark on the national news scene.

But then the anchorman for KFVS12 in Cape Girardeau thought some more: Lung cancer. Dead at 67, just a year older than Shain.

And both were long-time smokers. Shain still is one.

"We have that in common," said Shain, who over the years has had a quintuple bypass, a benign tumor and asthma, all related to smoking. "But I'm one of those who feel lucky. Isn't that something all smokers feel? Like it won't happen to them?"

It certainly seems so, considering that more than 160,000 Americans people will die from lung cancer in 2005. Local health experts say Jennings' death should remind smokers of the role prevention, early detection -- and perhaps most importantly quitting -- should play in the fight against cancer.

Several risk factors increase the chance of developing lung cancer. Smoking is the most important one, said Dr. Stanley Sides, a Cape Girardeau medical oncologist for 30 years.

"It's a choice they make," Sides said. "They're accepting significant risk. It's like riding a motorcycle without a helmet or anything else. They tell you smoking is pleasurable. But smokers shouldn't be surprised if they get lung cancer."

Lung cancer is still the leading cause of death in America in both men and women and kills more than the No. 2 through No. 4 causes combined, Sides said. Smoking also can lead to heart disease, asthma and other medical problems.

So the first thing he tells his patients who smoke is that they should quit.

"Whenever you stop smoking, you reduce the risk," he said.

Once a person has quit smoking, the risk decreases for heart disease much more rapidly than for lung cancer, according to WebMD. Within the first two to three years after quitting, many of the effects of heart disease will begin to diminish. There will be some slowing in the progression of blockages that form in heart arteries from smoking.

Lung cancer is a much more difficult issue, according to Sides. If you smoke two packs of cigarettes a day for 20 years, your risk of developing lung cancer is 70 times that of the general population, he said. Seven and eight years after someone quits smoking, the smoker's risk is cut in half, but it's still 35 times that of the general population.

Some researchers think it takes about 15 years for the risk to drop back to the general population.

Jennings had quit smoking for 20 years but started again five years ago after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

Registered nurse Debbie Leoni runs the "Freedom from Smoking," class at HealthPoint Plaza Fitness Center in Cape Girardeau. She said nicotine stays in a smoker's system for five days. After that, it's all about breaking the habit.

"It's a miserable five days, but after that you have to find something else to do other than smoke," she said. "It's like any other habit, drinking soda or whatever. It's uncomfortable to break a habit, but it can be done."

Some rely on the nicotine patch or gum. There is also a new cartridge which looks like a "fat cigarette" and gives people the nicotine without the tar and other chemicals.

"But you really just have to want to do it," she said. "People doodle, walk, take deep breaths. There's even hypnotism. Some people even break straws in half and suck on a straw. You do what you have to. If you want to quit, anything can work."

Unfortunately, not everyone wants to or even feels like they can.

Mike Shain is such a person.

"If I could quit and not miss it, I would probably quit," Shain said. "But I don't want to miss it, even for an hour."

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