Hospital:

6 Reasons to Quit Smoking, Even After a Cancer Diagnosis

July 30, 2021

Smoking cessation improves countless facets of health, from easier breathing, to lower blood pressure, to decreased heart attack and cancer risk. Unfortunately, many people who face a cancer diagnosis don’t realize that cessation can still help them in many ways.

It’s never too late to stop smoking, says Ana Maria López, MD, MPH, MACP, FRCP, Professor and Vice Chair of Medical Oncology and Chief of Cancer Services, Jefferson Health – New Jersey. “Nicotine impacts the entire body. Quitting is one of the best things anyone can do for their health, and if you already have cancer, it can play a key role in treatment.”

We spoke with Dr. Lopez, Emma-Ruth Paz-Querubin, APN, NP-C, and Sandy Murray, BSN, RN, OCN, NCTTP, TTS, Nurse Navigator and Tobacco Treatment Specialist, of the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Washington Township, on how cessation can help, and how to achieve it.

The Benefits to Quitting:

1. Cancer treatments work more efficiently. The cocktail of chemicals in nicotine and tobacco can make it difficult for chemotherapy and radiation to do their job, says Murray. Research also shows that smoking may worsen the side effects of these treatments. If you undergo surgery, such as a mastectomy, smoking may hinder healing, increasing the risk for post-operative complications, such as open wounds.

2. Better treatment outcomes/decreased risk for recurrence. Cessation may slow the progression/spread of the cancer and help it respond to treatment better, thus improving outcomes, notes Dr. Lopez. Plus, the longer you’re smoke-free, the less of a chance you face for your cancer to come back. Lung cancer risk, particularly, can drop by 50 percent after 10 years, says Paz-Querubin.  

3. Better respiratory health. Your lung function improves the moment you stop smoking, continues Paz-Querubin. Most people notice a substantial change in breathing quality as early as 72 hours after stopping. Over the next year, many improvements take place, such as decreased coughing and shortness of breath and increased circulation.

4. Better heart health. Smoking damages the heart and blood vessels and greatly increases the risk for cardiovascular disease and heart attack. After two years of cessation, heart attack risk is cut in half, notes Paz-Querubin. If you already have cardiovascular disease, symptoms are likely to improve. Plus, blood pressure lowers, and heartrate returns to normal after 20 minutes.

5. Better mood and mental clarity. Many people are tricked into thinking smoking relaxes them, when it’s actually a stimulant, making their bodies more stressed, adds Murray. Studies show stress can be reduced with cessation, leading to improved mood and better responses to anxiety and depression treatments, for some. This is incredibly important for people with cancer, as it may help them accept their diagnosis and cope with it in healthier ways.

6. Better sense of taste and smell! Often within the first couple of days of quitting, people will notice their senses of taste and smell return, allowing them to savor different foods, continues Murray. This may not seem as serious as the other benefits, but it can truly help people enjoy life more.

Where to Start:

Of course, quitting is easier said than done; I know this because I used to smoke, says Paz-Querubin. “I think it starts with commitment and understanding the long-term consequences. Until you accept how harmful smoking can be, you won’t be able to address it.”

Often, there’s a psychological barrier, explains Murray. “It’s uncomfortable. There’s fear of the unknown. How do you give up something that’s been your ‘crutch,’ especially when you’re facing a cancer diagnosis? The answer is: with the help of others.”

No one has to quit alone. At the Cancer Center, many resources are available to assist you through your smoking cessation journey, including:

  • FDA- approved cessation treatments that combat withdrawal (i.e., patches, gum, lozenges)
  • a professionally facilitated, confidential support group (open to patients and community members)
  • one-on-one cessation counseling
  • referrals to behavioral/mental health specialists, if needed.

“If you’ve tried on your own, and it hasn’t worked for you, there may be new methods or treatment combinations that can help. It can never hurt to try again,” adds Murray.

For more information and guidance on smoking cessation, visit NJQuitline.org or  TobaccoFreeNJ.com.

To learn more about the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center – Washington Township, click HERE or call 856-218-5324.