If you can remember the harrowing days when people used to smoke freely in bars and restaurants, on planes, in offices and while sitting around their kitchen tables, you’ll be delighted to hear that the Canadian anti-smoking campaign has reaped the most valuable of rewards.

Lives have literally been saved; Canadians are surviving lung cancer in increasing numbers with each passing year.

A recent report by the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) shows that rates of death by lung cancer have decreased by 3.8 per cent annually since 2015 for both males and females.

This accomplishment makes the decrease the largest annual decline in mortality rates across all cancer types reported, and the fastest decline in lung cancer mortality reported to date in Canada.

“We are making considerable headway to reduce lung cancer deaths in Canada,” says Dr. Jennifer Gillis, Senior Manager of Surveillance at CCS. “This promising news gives people affected by lung cancer – and the entire cancer community – hope for the future and encouragement to continue to work for more progress. It means a better prognosis and more positive outcomes for cancer patients.”

To put this in context, in 2023, the lung cancer death rate for males is expected to be 56 per cent lower than it was at its peak in 1988. For females, the rate is expected to be 24 per cent lower than at its peak in 2006.

However, the sobering fact remains that an estimated 20,600 people are expected to die from lung cancer in Canada in 2023.

Canada’s medical and cancer advocacy community is determined to save even more lives.

Impact of Tobacco Control

The most significant reason that lung cancer death rates are improving is due to a reduction in commercial tobacco use, which is the leading risk factor for lung cancer. Around 72 per cent of lung cancer cases in Canada are due to smoking tobacco.

As of 2022, 11.6 per cent of the total population aged 12 and older smoke tobacco, but the goal is to get to 5 per cent by 2035.

“Canada has some of the best tobacco regulations in the world, and they are making an impact. Over 50,000 cancer cases could be prevented in Canada by 2042 if we reduce smoking prevalence to 5 per cent by 2035.”

Dr. Jennifer Gillis, Senior Manager of Surveillance at the Canadian Cancer Society

Reducing Tobacco Smoking Down to 5 Per Cent

Canada has some of the most stringent packaging regulations for tobacco in the world.  Coming up soon will be additional warnings on cigarettes themselves – a world first that comes into effect April 2024.

The CSS is working on further advocating for new policies and legislation such as flavoured tobacco bans and smoke-free workplaces. Policies such as this help restrict access, increase awareness of health risks, and make smoking tobacco more expensive and unattractive – all of which are proven to help reduce tobacco use.

Despite this progress, lung cancer is still expected to be the most diagnosed cancer in Canada, with an estimated 31,000 new cases in 2023.

Beyond tobacco, there are other risk factors like radon gas, asbestos, air pollution and certain workplace exposures that can increase a person’s risk of lung cancer.

Lung Cancer Treatment Progress Through Research

Over the last 30 years, research advancements have helped to improve survival through early detection when the disease is most treatable and have allowed for more precise and effective treatments with fewer harmful side effects.

Screening is also an important part of catching the disease early. See here for screening guidelines in Canada.

“For the lung cancer community, this is a time of innovation and acceleration in all aspects of lung cancer research and there is much to be excited about,” says Dr Gillis. “Researchers have pioneered advances to find lung cancer earlier and more easily, explored minimally invasive surgeries with shorter recovery times, employed stereotactic targeted radiation to reduce damage to healthy tissues and implemented precision medicine therapies and immunotherapies that use the body’s own immune system. These advances are saving lives.”

Greater investments in research are needed so scientists can better understand the full spectrum of lung cancer risks, prevention and early detection opportunities and more effective treatment options.

Smoking cigarettes not only damages your lungs, it also damages your heart and nearly every organ in your body.

Giving up smoking is one of the most important things you can do for your health. And while claims have been made that vaping can help people quit tobacco, vaping products are not approved in Canada under the FDA, which means these products are not available by prescription from your health care provider.

Be aware that vape manufacturers are not allowed to make any health claims, such as their ability to help people quit smoking.

Additionally, vape products have known health risks you should be aware of, many of which have yet to be revealed in the coming years as data flows in. What is known however, is that the nicotine found in vapes is bad for your heart and lungs, just as it is in cigarettes.

Consult with your healthcare provider about kicking the habit. It’s a hard thing to do, but it will be the best thing you ever do for yourself.

The Health Insider applauds this exciting news and we offer encouragement to anyone in our community who is trying to stop smoking. Please share your tips and celebrate kicking the habit with us on social media. You got this!

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