This is what happens to your body when you quit cigarettes

Watch: Cancer: Six people diagnosed every hour because of smoking, charity warns

Cancers caused by smoking have reached an all-time high of 160 new cases per day, a charity has warned.

Analysis by Cancer Research UK shows smoking has driven a 17% rise in cancer cases since 2003 in the UK, with the biggest jumps in liver, throat and kidney cancers, which have doubled over the last 20 years.

In 2003, there were 49,325 cancer cases of all types caused by smoking, rising to 56,091 in 2013 and 57,555 last year.

The new round-up also includes cases of breast cancer after Cancer Research UK said it was confident in the scientific research showing the effects of smoking on your risk for that disease. The analysis said smoking is linked to about 2,200 cases of breast cancer every year in the UK.

Tobacco is known to cause 16 different types of cancer, with lung cancer alone causing 33,000 cases annually.

Although smoking rates in the UK are going down, a growing population means there are still about 6.4 million smokers in the UK.

After just an hour of quitting smoking, your pulse rate and blood pressure will start to reduce. (Getty Images)
After just an hour of quitting smoking, your pulse rate and blood pressure will start to reduce. (Getty Images)

Although the risks of smoking are well-documented, it can be difficult to quit, which can lead to some people not managing to, assuming the health damage has already been done.

But, despite some challenges in giving up nicotine, there are some incredibly significant benefits to quitting.

To get a sense of what these short and long-term health benefits are, Yahoo Life spoke with some experts about what happens to your body in the hours, days, weeks, months and years after quitting.

"While things like alcohol come with recommended daily amounts, smoking doesn’t," explains Cheryl Lythgoe, Matron at Benenden Health. "In fact, the recommended daily number of cigarettes is none, and for good reason. The benefits of quitting smoking outweigh the consequences, but even then, it’s important to understand the immediate physical and mental health symptoms when you do quit."

One hour – Your pulse rate and blood pressure will start to reduce, however you may start craving another cigarette.

Four-eight hours – Your oxygen levels are recovering, and the harmful levels of carbon monoxide will reduce by half.

12 hours – You may start to feel sad and restless as the physical craving of a cigarette takes hold. "These feelings won't last forever. Though you may feel a temporary relief if you smoke again, studies show depression and stress levels are less when people stop smoking," explains Lythgoe.

24 hours – You may notice you become more irritable and anxious, but remember this is a temporary effect. "Overall, it’s proven that mood, stress, anxiety and depression improve after stopping smoking," Lythgoe adds.

closeup woman hand destroying cigarette stop smoking concept
After five-seven days, your body no longer craves nicotine. (Getty Images)

Two-three days – All carbon monoxide is flushed out of your system. "Your lungs are clearing out the mucous and your sense of taste and smell is improving, but you may notice your appetite increases by mistaking cigarette cravings as hunger pangs," Lythgoe explains.

Four-five days – Breathing becomes easier because the bronchial tubes start to relax, and you feel your energy levels rising.

Five-seven days – Your body no longer craves nicotine, and now it is a case of 'mind over matter' to stop smoking for good.

Two weeks – You will have improved circulation as blood pumps through your heart and muscles much more efficiently. "You will also see an increase in your physical energy levels," Lythgoe adds.

One month – You may notice that persistent cough, feeling of breathlessness or the annoying wheeze will go as there is an improvement in your lung health.

Three months – Lung function increases by 10%.

One year – Heart disease and the risk of a heart attack reduces by 50%.

10 years – Death from lung cancer is reduced by 50% compared to a smoker.

While everyone could and should quit smoking, certain factors can have an impact on giving up cigarettes.

"Smoking is nicotine addiction. The longer you’ve been smoking, the more established your nicotine addiction will be," explains Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy.

"The craving for another cigarette starts as soon as the last cigarette is stubbed out. Many smokers say they can’t quit because of their nerves. In fact, it’s the nicotine withdrawal that causes the anxiety and mood swings, and the cigarettes are the cause not the solution to the problem. Stopping smoking has huge benefits for your mental health."

You may assume that the more cigarettes you smoke, the harder it will be to give up, but interestingly, a 2020 research study found that smoker type – as in light or heavy smoking – does not determine the success of being able to quit.

"The number of cigarettes smoked per day did not correlate with success at being able to quit after six months of therapy," explains Dr Lee.

"Heavy smokers were more likely to have used stop smoking aids in the past, be heavy drinkers, have used cannabis and to lack confidence in their ability to succeed in quitting."

A further French study showed that light smokers were less likely to attend follow-up sessions when trying to quit than heavy smokers.

"Perhaps heavy smokers are more motivated to try and stop," Dr Lee continues. "Also, heavy smokers were more likely to have a high alcohol intake and suffer from depression – both of which are risk factors for treatment failure.

"Other studies have shown light smokers to have more confidence in their ability to give up than heavy smokers."

Unfortunately, the longer you’ve been smoking, the greater the amount of lung damage.

"It will take heavy smokers longer to recover when they stop smoking, than a light or intermittent smoker," Dr Lee continues. "But may of the benefits of stopping smoking will still occur within minutes or hours of having the last cigarette. Stopping smoking is the single best thing you can do to improve your health and it's never too late to stop smoking."

Quit Smoking Resolution Sticky Note On Calendar
There are a range of oral medications available to help prevent nicotine withdrawal. (Getty Images)

The experts at Go Smoke Free explain some of the most common ways to quit.

Cold turkey - The most natural way to quit smoking but also potentially the most challenging, it involves removing cigarettes from your life in one go. The success rate is affected by how dependant you are on smoking – social smokers will find it easier to give up as opposed to someone who heavily depends on nicotine consumption.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) – There are oral medications that have been designed to help prevent nicotine withdrawal. These medications, such as Zyban, which is used to treat depression have proven effective in some cases, but always discuss with your doctor if it's suitable for you.

According to the NHS, the pill effectively mimics the effects nicotine have on your brain and body, so you feel less need to smoke and it helps condition your body into disliking smoking all together. Other forms of NRT that are more accessible from local pharmacies include chewing gum, nicotine patches, lozenges, and nasal and mouth spray.

Hypnotherapy and counselling – Hypnotherapists lead a person into a meditative state to effectively trick the mind into quitting. It has proved most effective with the support of NRT’s at the start of the process. Counselling involves meeting a mental health specialist to help detect the root cause of why you smoke and the impacts it can have on your short and long-term health. Both individual and group counselling is available and commonly used.

E-cigarettes – This electronic device allows you to inhale nicotine in the form of different flavoured vapours, which don't include the most harmful effects of smoking such as tar and carbon monoxide. E-cigarettes are most effective if used with support from an NHS stop smoking service.

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