If you have used tobacco in any form, now or in the past, tell your health care provider so he or she can be sure that you have right preventive health care. It is well known that smoking puts you at risk for certain health problems. 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, your doctor may recommend that you check the inside of your mouth regularly for any changes. If you do find any changes or problems, you should have an oral exam done by your doctor or dentist. The American Cancer Society recommends that medical check-ups should include mouth (oral cavity) exams. By doing this, tobacco users may be able to find changes such as leukoplakia (white patches on the membranes in the mouth) early. This may help prevent oral cancer.
You should also be aware of any of the following:
- Any change in a cough (for example, you cough up more phlegm or mucus than usual)
- A new cough
- Coughing up blood
- Trouble getting your breath, especially with exercise
- Chest pain
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Feeling tired all the time (fatigue)
- Frequent lung or respiratory infections (like pneumonia or bronchitis)
Any of these could be signs of problems with the lungs or other parts of the respiratory system and should be reported to a doctor right away.
Heavy smokers are at higher risk for lung cancer. But lung cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms until it is advanced (has spread). The American Cancer Society is reviewing the results from the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST), a 2011 study that looked at whether screening could save lives of people at increased risk for lung cancer. In this study, heavy smokers and formerly heavy smokers between the ages of 55 and 74 years old were screened using either chest x-rays or low-dose helical CT scans. The group that got the CT scans had a slightly lower death rate. If you are or have been a heavy smoker and are between ages 55 and 74, talk with your doctor about your lung cancer risk, and about the potential benefits and risks of lung cancer screening. After discussing what is and is not known about the value of early lung cancer detection, you and your doctor can decide whether to go ahead with testing. If you do decide in favor of testing, then be sure to have it done at a center that has experience in all aspects of testing people at high risk. If you’d like more details on this type of screening, please see the early detection information in our Lung Cancer document.
If you have any health concerns that you think may be caused by cigarette smoking, please see a health care provider right away. Taking care of yourself and getting treatment for problems before they get worse will improve your chances for successful treatment. But if you still smoke, the best way to take care of yourself and decrease your risk for life-threatening lung problems is to quit.