Quick Study: Middle-Aged Smokers Have Astoundingly Higher Odds of Dying of Cancer

The staggering statistics may help doctors convince patients to quit for good.

Male middle-aged smokers have a 75 percent increased chance of dying of cancer compared to nonsmokers, a study finds. (Photo: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images)

Sep 12, 2012
Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

The study: Convincing smokers to quit isn’t easy—most have a hard time giving up their addiction to nicotine. But a new study released today provides some statistics that may help doctors persuade patients to kick the habit for good, making this a public health issue as well as a personal one. After analyzing 10 cohorts of men and women, researchers found that middle-aged smokers have a far greater risk of dying of cancer during their lives than nonsmokers.

The difference is substantial: for 45-year-old men it’s a 75 percent greater risk compared to nonsmokers of the same age and gender, and for 45-year-old women it’s a 64 percent increased risk. “This study should be another wake-up call for middle-aged smokers, most of whom have already been smoking for decades,” senior author Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said in a news release. The study was released online recently in the journal Cancer Causes and Control.

MORE: Quitting Smoking Prolongs Life, Even for Older Smokers

What we already know: Extensive research has been done on the success of some quit strategies for smokers, such as exercise programs, text messaging and graphic cigarette packaging. But quitting for good still proves problematic for many smokers, and older ones could be a particularly tough crowd. A 2007 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that younger smokers age 18 to 24 were more likely than older adults age 35 to 64 to have seriously tried to quit and to have not smoked for six months or more.

What this means for you: If you’re a smoker, the statistics are pretty stunning and tough to ignore—if you smoke in middle age, you have a greatly increased risk of dying of cancer. Lead author Dr. Andrew Gawron added this nugget: “It may surprise some to know that lung cancer was not the only cancer that killed these smokers. We found that those who smoked at age 45 greatly increased their risk of dying from a wide variety of cancers later on and often die from cancer at younger ages than non-smokers.”

Have you tried to quit smoking, successfully or unsuccessfully? Tell us about it in the comments.

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