Combat 5 Lung Diseases That Take Your Breath Away

Stop Smoking Today to Prevent 5 Dangerous Lung Diseases

By Roman Krol, MD, Pulmonologist—Virtua Pulmonology

Cigarette smoke is bad for your health.

Every puff contains chemical substances including pesticides, tar, heavy metals, and of course, nicotine. Even secondhand smoke is linked to medical conditions that affect the body—especially the respiratory system.

Smoking inflames airways, damages healthy tissue, and weakens the body’s immune system. Every cigarette has a cumulative effect on your body throughout your life.

Following are five respiratory conditions caused by smoking. It may give you pause to consider quitting now, even if you've smoked for years. It can help save your health and life. 

Chronic bronchitis

Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchial tubes—the airways that connect your lungs. When they are inflamed or infected, less air flows to and from the lungs. Often called “smoker’s cough,” chronic bronchitis makes you cough up heavy mucus or phlegm.


The bronchial tubes connect to your lungs' alveoli (air sacs) where oxygen is exchanged for carbon dioxide. These air sacs are elastic (stretchy) so they can inflate and deflate with each breath. The lungs of a person with emphysema have weak, inelastic (not stretchy) air sacs that exchange less gas than healthy lungs. This leads to shortness of breath and low oxygen levels.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

COPD is a progressive lung disease that gets worse over time, making it hard to breathe. Most people who have COPD have both chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Symptoms include decreased lung function, chronic coughing, and shortness of breath. It’s a major cause of disability today, and the third-leading cause of death in the United States.


Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. The air sacs may fill with fluid or pus, causing cough, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing. A variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi, can cause pneumonia. While many conditions can lead to pneumonia, smokers are more susceptible and face higher mortality rates than nonsmokers.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Each year, it claims more lives than colon, prostate, ovarian, and breast cancers combined. Smoking causes structural lung damage, but also affects tissue at the molecular level, increasing the likelihood of mutations that promote cancer cells.

The risk difference between smokers and nonsmokers is stark—smokers are 10 to 30 times more likely than nonsmokers to develop lung cancer.

The key to improving your lung health is to quit smoking. Smokers who quit even after a diagnosis of lung disease have a higher survival rate than those who keep smoking.

Early-stage lung cancer doesn’t cause many symptoms. For this reason, lung cancer screening is the only way to detect tumors or nodules at an early—and treatable—stage.

Want to quit smoking? Virtua can help you get there.

Virtua offers programs across Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester counties to help you quit smoking. You’ll develop a personal quit smoking plan with stress management tips, tools for success, and resources to help you stay smoke free for good. To learn more, call 888-847-8823


Updated February 3, 2020

Lung Cancer Screening

A large, eight-year National Cancer Institute research study has shown that by screening certain groups of current and former smokers with a low dose CT scan, tumors can be detected early and reduce lung cancer mortality by 20 percent.

Since, in its earlier stages, lung cancer does not present with telltale symptoms, this program is designed to detect lung cancer at an earlier stage. Until now, most individuals with lung cancer have been diagnosed with late-stage disease. Earlier detection will provide an opportunity for more effective treatment.

Low-dose CT imaging is a non-invasive technology. Unlike an x-ray, it provides a more detailed view of the lungs, and the ability to detect disease at an earlier stage.

Who should consider screening?
Those who qualify for lung cancer screening fit into one of two categories:

  • Individuals 55-77 years of age current or former smokers with a 30 pack year history (a pack year is the number of packs smoked daily multiplied by the number of years smoking). Former smokers must have quit within the past 15 years.
  • Individuals 50 years and older with a 20 pack year history and one additional risk factor. Additional risk factors include certain occupational exposures, cancer history and a disease history of pulmonary fibrosis, emphysema, chronic bronchitis. Your physician will help you determine your risk factors.

If you have Medicare or commercial insurance, this screening may be covered. Call your carrier to verify. Virtua offers reduced rates for those without coverage. The test requires an order from a physician, which may be provided by a primary care or lung specialist.

Learn more about lung cancer screening
If you have questions about the program, call (856) 247-7370 and press #2. One of our lung nurse navigators will answer questions, assist you with a referral to a primary care physician and help you throughout the process.

For information about smoking cessation, please call 1-866-657-8677.

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