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Smoking after Cancer: Does It Even Matter?

By Richard C. Frank, MD

cigarette

I recently met a new patient, referred to me because of a recent diagnosis of lung cancer. He was just over 70 years old and had been in very good physical condition despite having been a smoker for 50 years. He was intelligent and articulate and admitted he knew the habit was going to “catch up” to him but he decided to continue anyway.  We discussed all aspects of his cancer including its causes, stage, treatment options and prognosis. Then he asked a question that many people in his situation ask: “Do I need to stop smoking? What’s the difference anyway?”

The answer is a big YES and there are many reasons why.

First, lets review some basic facts about tobacco use and cancer.  Tobacco is linked to over 10 different types of cancer, especially lung, head and neck, bladder, esophagus and pancreatic cancers. Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals and over 60 carcinogens. Years of smoking leads to DNA damage that results in cancer.  It is well known that discontinuing tobacco use leads to major reductions in the risk of cancer. But it is not widely known that discontinuing tobacco and smoking improves outcomes in those diagnosed with cancer.

Here are some facts to consider if you are a smoker and have been diagnosed with cancer:

  • In patients who underwent surgery to remove all evidence of lung cancer, smoking cessation improves 5-year survivals by over 35%.
  • Continued smoking after surgery results in a greater chance of developing another smoking related cancer.
  • In patients with advanced (stage IV) lung cancer, continued tobacco use results in decreased effectiveness of cancer treatments and more side effects from those treatments.
  • Continued smoking after a diagnosis of lung cancer is associated with a decrease in quality of life (overall sense of well-being) and decreased survival.

There are many methods to help current smokers stop smoking. Many hospitals offer cessation programs. If yours does not, then there is a national quit line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.  The first step, however, is a desire to stop and an understanding of why it is important to do so, even after a diagnosis of cancer.

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