By Kay Quinn, Healthbeat Reporter
St. Louis (KSDK) - We're always told quitting smoking is one of the best ways to lower your cancer risk. But at what point are you considered a smoker?
Believe it or not, you can have smoked a few cigarettes in your life and still be considered a never-smoker. We check out the definition on this week's 8 Ways to Prevent Cancer segment.
"It's interesting you should ask. We just made up the definition about eight or nine years ago," said Dr. Ramaswamy Govindan with the Siteman Cancer Center.
They're called "never smokers." People who don't run an increased risk of smoking-related illnesses.
But it doesn't mean they've never, ever had a cigarette.
"If you have smoked about 100 cigarettes in your lifetime, you are deemed a smoker. So if you've had a cigarette or two, smoked here or there, a few, that doesn't count," said Dr. Govindan.
Another interesting distinction: it's true that quitting smoking will lower your risk of disease. But when it comes to cancer, that happens slowly.
"The risk for cancer drops down over time, and if you smoked for a very long time, it takes longer to reach that, the point where it becomes low," said Dr. Govindan.
But the other health improvements can happen very quickly when you put down the cigarettes for good.
"In fact, the moment you stop smoking, the risk for all these heart attack and vascular problems diminish right away and more importantly, the lung damage slows down; so it's never too late to stop smoking," said Dr. Govindan.