Survivorship

Saying hello to a tobacco-free life: the benefits of quitting for cancer survivors

By Donna Manders, Tobacco Cessation Counselor, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance

If you've survived cancer and continue to smoke or use other tobacco products, you may believe it is too late to quit or there is no benefit to quitting. Some people feel deep down they don't deserve extra help or care because smoking might have caused their cancer.

However, it is never too late to stop using tobacco. Stopping tobacco use may be the most important activity a cancer survivor can do to improve their chances of a long and healthy post-cancer life.

Whether you are a short- or long-term cancer survivor, or a loved one whose secondhand smoke affects a survivor, quitting smoking and other tobacco products is always beneficial. No form of tobacco is safe to use, whether cigarettes or other sources: cigar and pipe smoking; smokeless tobacco, such as chewing tobacco and snuff; and alternative tobacco products like water pipes (hookahs) and electronic cigarettes.

In many ways, there are advantages to you or a loved one quitting after a cancer diagnosis:

  • You will have the support and encouragement of your health care team
  • You will feel like you are doing something positive for yourself and your life
  • You will be able to focus all your energy on moving past cancer

Most smokers and tobacco users want to quit. Although it can be difficult, many people are successful, and a variety of treatment options and resources exist to help you reach your goal. It is always possible to quit, and an entire health care team may be involved in helping you, such as the doctors, nurses, social workers, physician assistants, hypnotherapists, acupuncturists and other health care professionals.

There are many physical and psychological benefits to stopping tobacco use after a cancer diagnosis, including:

  • Increased chance of longer survival
  • A better chance of successful treatment
  • Fewer and less serious side effects from all types of cancer treatment, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy
  • Faster recovery from treatment
  • Decreased risk of secondary cancers
  • Lower risk of infection
  • Easier breathing
  • More energy
  • Better quality of life
  • Cost savings

On the other hand, continuing to use tobacco has the following risks:

  • Increased chance of cancer recurrence
  • Increased risk of other serious illnesses, such as heart and lung diseases
  • Increased odds of shorter survival
  • Increased chance of other types of cancers
  • More treatment-related side effects such as infection, fatigue, and problems with bones and soft tissues

Research shows tobacco users who get cancer (related to tobacco use or not) face increased risk of a second cancer for up to 20 years if they continue to smoke. But for people who stop smoking at the time of diagnosis, the risk is no higher than in those who had stopped smoking at least six months before diagnosis.

Quitting tobacco use isn't easy, but neither is surviving cancer—you can do it! Talk to your doctor and read the accompanying tips on making this important step toward better health.

Frequently asked questions about quitting tobacco use

Q: How can I quit smoking?

If you're one of the more than 70 percent of smokers who want to quit, consider this advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Don't smoke any cigarettes. Each cigarette you smoke damages your lungs, your blood vessels and cells throughout your body. Even occasional smoking is harmful.
  • Write down why you want to quit. Do you want to:
    • Feel in control of your life?
    • Have better health?
    • Set a good example for your children?
    • Protect your family from breathing other people's smoke?
    Really wanting to quit smoking is very important to how much success you'll have in quitting.
  • Know that it will take commitment and effort to quit smoking. Nearly all smokers have some feelings of nicotine withdrawal when they try to quit. Nicotine is addictive. Knowing this will help you deal with withdrawal symptoms that can occur, such as bad moods and really wanting to smoke.
  • There are many ways smokers quit, including using nicotine replacement products (gum and patches) or FDA-approved, non-nicotine cessation medications. But there is no easy way. For most people, the worst of the symptoms only last a few days to a couple weeks. Take quitting one day at a time, even one minute at a time—whatever you need to succeed.
  • Get help if you want it. Smokers can receive free resources and assistance to help them quit by calling the 1-800-QUIT-NOW quitline (1-800-784-8669) or review tips from former smokers. Your health care provider is also a good source of help and support.

More than half of all adult smokers have quit, and you can, too. Millions of people have learned to face life without a cigarette. Quitting smoking is the single most important step you can take to protect your health and the health of your family.

Q: Won't I gain weight if I stop smoking?

Weight gain is a common concern, but not everyone gains weight when they stop smoking. Learn ways to help control your weight as you quit smoking.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is a world leader in research to prevent, detect and treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases.