The Super-Surprising 30-Minute Screening That Helps You Quit Smoking

Smoking cigarettes is terrible for you, and you know it. The question is, are you ready to do something about it? If you're leaning in the direction of quitting, taking this extra step may help you kick the habit for good.

smokingfongbeerredhot/ShutterstockIf you’re a smoker and you’re not yet thinking about quitting, you need to think again. If the fact that smoking ruins your looks isn’t reason enough to quit, how about the fact that it could kill you? Smoking can exacerbate diabetes because it raises your blood sugar. Smoking is responsible for nearly half of all liver cancers. And quitting smoking decreases your risk of a cardiovascular disease by 50 percent after just one year. Hey, look, why don’t we just agree that “smoking is the leading cause of preventable morbidity and premature mortality worldwide,” which was how an esteemed group of scholars from the United Kingdom introduced the findings of their recent study in the scientific journal Thorax, which demonstrated that undergoing lung cancer screening—in the form of a CT scan—may push smokers to finally kick the habit.

The study, led by researchers at Cardiff University working with the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Translational Medicine, King’s College London and Queen Mary University of London, added to the already mounting evidence that participating in lung cancer screening significantly increases the rate at which people quit smoking, at least among those already “motivated and receptive” to the idea of quitting. It also confirms the findings of previous trials that a clean bill of health from a lung cancer screening does not falsely reassure smokers or reduce their motivation to stop smoking.

For the study, the researchers sent information packs to a random sampling of nearly 2.5 million British residents ages 50 to 75. The packs included a self-report questionnaire regarding lung cancer risk factors. From the questionnaire responders, 8,729 patients were identified as being at high risk for lung cancer. After they completed a second questionnaire to identify trial eligibility (among other things, people had to be smokers to be eligible) those who got the green light were either invited to participate in screening via CT scan or not, although all of those deemed eligible were offered standard leaflets and other information on how to quit smoking.

Crunching the numbers after following up at two weeks and then again at two years, the researchers found 10 percent of the people who had been screened had quit after two weeks, and 15 percent after two years—both higher than the 5 percent rates found in the group that had not been invited to participate in screening.

Although smokers who quit after their screenings credited the screening with their quitting, the voluntary nature of the trial meant that smokers who took part were “self-selected and may already have been contemplating quitting,” the study authors note. That said, through the questionnaires, those who ended up quitting did have a marginal tendency toward feeling distressed over their smoking, which suggests that “experiencing a degree of concern about lung cancer may be necessary to galvanize cessation.” Future evaluations of CT lung screening would therefore benefit from examining the influence of both mood and smoking-related thoughts and perceptions on quitting outcomes.

For now, the British researchers are confident in concluding that “CT lung cancer screening for high-risk participants offers a teachable moment for smoking cessation” and that for doctors and policymakers who are considering adding lung cancer screening to smoking cessation initiatives, this study adds to evidence suggesting that integrating CT screening with [other anti-smoking] interventions could really help smokers who are motivated to quit.

Interested in quitting? Here are the ways your body heals when you quit the habit. And check out these anecdotes from ex-smokers on how they beat smoking before it beat them, and this expert advice on how to succeed at quitting.

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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers health, fitness, yoga, and lifestyle, among other topics. An author of crime fiction, Lauren's book The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.