Reversing the Damage from Smoking

New Media Producer: Brad Maglinger

Unfortunately, pulmonologist Sultan Niazi sees more large lung tumors than small ones. That's because up to 90-percent of patients sit on their symptoms too long and by the time they see a specialist, they have full blown lung cancer.

"All lung cancer screening trials, unfortunately, have not been very conclusive so far," says Dr. Niazi. "So, for like breast and other cancers you have screening tests and, unfortunately for lung cancer, it's still up in the air. So, that's why we tend not to catch these people early."

Doctors are hesitant to order early screenings for lung cancer because CAT scans and chest x-rays are expensive. That's why it's so important for patients to watch for early symptoms like unexplained weight loss, a new cough or a cough that changes in character. Smokers especially need to be on alert, and try to break their addiction no matter how long they've been a slave to it.

"It's never too late to quit. Even if you have severe disease, even if you have cancer, if you quit, your chances do improve," states Dr. Niazi.

Your body goes through many changes after you quit smoking. Within a few days, damaged nerve endings begin to grow again. After a few months, lung cilia clear and regenerate, cleaning the lungs and reducing infections. After several years, pre-cancerous cells are gradually replaced by normal, healthy cells.

While your risk for cancer does improve, Dr. Niazi says it will never be as low as someone who's never smoked.