Smoking has been directly correlated to cancer by countless studies. Exposure to tobacco smoke can lead to oral cancers, nasal cancers, and cancer of the larynx, as well as stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, and uterine cancer. Further, cancer of the colon, rectum, and ovaries is more common for those who smoke, as is acute myeloid leukemia. Quitting as early as possible into cancer treatment can benefit disease progression and reduce side effects. While quitting can be difficult, especially when one is under high levels of stress, plenty of supports exist to help smokers walk through this process. The first step on this important path is to gain a better understanding of the impact smoking has on cancer, cancer symptoms, and disease progression. Continuing to smoke throughout treatment can lead to poor treatment outcomes, and may even cause dangerous side effects to occur within chemotherapy and other cancer treatment approaches.
For smokers undergoing surgery to treat cancer, several side effects are possible. Smoking can cause complications with anaesthesia. Most smokers have increased mucosal secretions in the throat and lungs; this can lead to narrowing of the airways when under anaesthesia. Additionally, smoking can interfere with circulation. This leads to a reduced ability for the heart to pump oxygen-rich blood to the extremities and around the body, increasing the risk of strokes and heart attack. Further, smoking can interfere with the body’s ability to heal itself post-surgery, leading to protracted healing times.
Smokers who undergo radiation therapy are at an increased risk for oral mucositis, causing inflammation in the mouth and throat. Radiation treatment outcomes tend to be poorer in those who smoke, than those who do not. Patients may also experience taste sensation losses, dry mouth, and increased weight loss if they smoke. Fatigue and pneumonitis are also common for smokers undergoing radiation, as are bone and tissue damage and damage to the vocal cords.
Smokers who engage in chemotherapy treatment are at an increased risk of heart and lung complications that can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots during treatment. Certain chemotherapy drugs, including irinotecan (Camptosar) and erlotinib (Tarceva), are less effective for smokers because blood serum levels of the drugs are lower in those who use tobacco products.
Smoking also increases the risk of secondary cancers and malignancy. Patients who manage to beat cancer do not escape from this risk unscathed; researchers have identified that continuing to smoke increases the risk of being diagnosed with new cancers for up to 20 years. Patients with oral cancers or lung cancer have the highest risk of secondary cancers.
How to Quit
Quitting smoking is one of the best decisions a cancer patient can make for themselves. While quitting may seem overwhelming in the face of such adversity, it is a positive step that should be taken as early into treatment as possible. Smokers should start by making a firm decision to quit smoking.
A quit plan should be crafted, with a specific quit date stated. This allows time for the smoker to prepare mentally and physically for the process of quitting. Quit plans should outline not only the quit date, but the strategies that will be used by smokers to cope with cravings and withdrawal. Smoking cessation aids can be helpful for some. Others pair quitting with psychotherapy.
There are many supports available to cancer patients who wish to quit smoking. The American Cancer Society provides resources for smokers who wish to quit. Cancer.net also offers information on quitting that can help smokers to form a plan and move forward with it. A variety of supports, tools, apps, and resources are presented to smokers on Cancer.gov on their Quitting Smoking, Smoking Prevention page. These resources can be reached from anywhere with internet access.
Help and Support Groups
Many cancer centers around the country offer smoking cessation programs to patients. Patients should check with their treatment team for local support groups and smoking cessation programs. The Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center offers smoking cessation programs at many of their locations, as does the Cleveland Clinic. Both of these resources provide support groups, one-on-one quitting support, and guides to help patients quit and remain smoke-free. The Dana-Farber Cancer Center has a list of resources available to smokers. This list includes guides, expert tips, and other information for smokers.
Large online communities exist where smokers can support and get support from their peers. The American Cancer Society also offers an online community called WhatNext; this community serves as a peer-to-peer support group for cancer patients. Smokers can connect with other patients for support and advice on quitting. Smoker’s Helpline also offers an online smoking cessation community and a helpline. A Nicotine Anonymous group also exists in the United States; this group works on the same theory as Alcoholics Anonymous, using a 12-step process to guide smokers through quitting. Group meetings are available in person in several different locations across the United States, but an online peer support community is available.
Patients who aren’t sure where to start can call one of several toll-free quitlines for guidance. Both 1-800-4-CANCER and 1-800-QUIT-NOW offer access to smoking cessation counselors. These individuals can provide information on resources, tips for quitting, and a listening ear throughout the quitting process.