3 Reasons to Quit Smoking After a Cancer Diagnosis

Quitting has many benefits in the cancer fight
breaking cigarette

If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, it may seem futile to consider quitting smoking. You may think it’s pointless to quit now, or that quitting smoking during chemotherapy will be too stressful. Maybe you feel that enjoying a cigarette is one of the only joys in your life right now. 

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But even though things are rough during this time, putting cigarettes down even after a cancer diagnosis can make a big difference, not only in your overall health but your ability to bounce back after chemotherapy says oncologist Nathan Pennell, MD, PhD. He breaks down three reasons why after a cancer diagnosis may be the most important time for you to consider quitting smoking. 

1. Smoking makes treatment harder

If you choose to undergo chemotherapy or other treatment options for cancer, these can cause some uncomfortable side effects, to say the least. These include fatigue, nausea, hair loss, skin problems and pain.

“Research shows that smoking makes these side effects even worse,” Dr. Pennell says. “Even six months after treatment, smokers continued to report more side effects from their cancer treatment than non-smokers.”

But if you’re able to quit smoking before starting treatment, Dr. Pennell says you’re likely to experience side effects similar to non-smokers. 

2. Smoking makes treatment less effective

You’ve probably heard about the many ways that smoking impacts your body. It affects your circulation, your cardiovascular health, your immune system, and even your body’s ability to heal from wounds. 

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“When you’re undergoing cancer treatment, especially if it involves surgery, smoking makes it even harder for your body to recover and increases your risk of complications, such as slower wound healing,” Dr. Pennell says. 

If that weren’t enough, there’s also evidence that smoking changes the way your body processes chemotherapy drugs, making them less effective.

3. Smoking increases your risk of cancer recurrence

Possibly the most important reason for you to give up smoking after a cancer diagnosis is, if your treatment is successful, quitting lessens the likelihood that a different type of cancer will return. 

This may seem obvious when it comes to lung cancer, but smoking causes many other types of cancer, too — including cancers of the larynx, throat, mouth, kidney, bladder, liver, pancreas and more. In fact, smoking is a risk factor for virtually all cancers.

If at first you don’t succeed — keep trying

Maybe you’ve tried and failed to quit smoking in the past. According to the American Lung Association, the average smoker attempts to quit seven times before finally quitting for good. You might feel like it’s something you’re simply not capable of doing. But the truth is, most people struggle to quit, especially the first time. Only 4% to 7% of people who try to quit smoking without assistance succeed on the first try.

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The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. There are a wide range of options that can help, including:

  • Smoking cessation classes
  • Nicotine replacement products
  • Medication
  • Hypnosis
  • Psychotherapy
  • Acupuncture

Maybe now is the best time to give one of them a try.

Talk openly to your doctor

“The first step in quitting smoking is being honest with your healthcare provider,” says Dr. Pennell. Smoking has become less socially acceptable, and many people feel ashamed that they smoke and are reluctant to tell their doctor.

But being open with your treatment team can help you get the resources to quit for good, drastically improving your quality of life and the chances that your treatment will be successful. “There’s really so many options available to help you quit smoking,” reassures Dr. Pennell. “We’re here to help whenever you’re ready to quit.” 

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