Smoke trails

Cessation of tobacco use may improve lives of cancer patients

Judy Keen
Jul 3, 2013

We all know that tobacco use (either through smoking or the use of smokeless tobacco) is bad for our health. Smoking leads to deadly ailments such as heart disease, vascular disease, or cancer.  We also know that quitting improves our overall health, beginning the day that you quit. However, some who have been diagnosed with cancer think that it’s too late to quit smoking. They believe that the damage has already been done and quitting will not improve their health; but it will. While there is still much to learn about how smoking affects cancer treatment and its outcomes, new studies are emerging that demonstrate how smoking interferes with treatment. Smoking reduces the effectiveness of some drugs and can intensify potentially toxic side effects. Smoking also impedes recovery from surgery, reduces overall compliance to taking medication, and can decrease the prospects for a full recovery. These effects on quality of life and survival are not limited to “tobacco related” cancers such as those of the lung or head/neck. Smoking leads to poorer outcomes for patients with many forms of cancer including breast, prostate, colorectal, esophageal, to name a few.

In April 2013, the American Association for Cancer Researchers (AACR) published a call for action in Clinical Cancer Research. They advocate for increased research funding to investigate how continued smoking impacts the therapeutic response and clinical outcomes, implementation of tobacco cessation programs, and a greater understanding of smoking prevalence among cancer patients.

Smoking cessation programs should be provided to patients to improve the quality of life and overall survival of cancer patients. This leads to critical questions like where will treatment be administered? Will this be through doctor’s offices? Who will pay? Will this be covered by insurance? AACR is taking a stand and shining a light on the need for improved smoking cessation programs and an improved understanding of the implications of smoking on treatment and care. What should be done? Who should be implementing this? Can public awareness help improve the lives of some cancer patients?

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Article reviewed by Stephanie Byng.

Judy Keen

Judy is a S&T Alumni Fellow (HEHS, 2012-2014). She blogs about the latest cancer research, increasing the access to the scientific literature, and graduate education. Follow Judy on twitter @judykeenphd or at


This blog does not necessarily reflect the views of AAAS, its Council, Board of Directors, officers, or members. AAAS is not responsible for the accuracy of this material. AAAS has made this material available as a public service, but this does not constitute endorsement by the association.

Comments (2)

Stephanie Byng (not verified)
July 08, 2013 at 10:37 am
When they say "smoking" are they referring to side effects of breathing in nicotine/tar or are they including nicotine cessation aids and chewing tobacco? I can't help but think public awareness of this has gone as far as it can. Everyone knows smoking is bad, and that smoking while sick can make you more sick. We've all heard that smoking increases the chance of side effects for many medications. It's been drilled into our brains! So how can we turn this common knowledge into action? Is it possible more widely available marijuana for cancer treatment would decrease one's dependence on tobacco? Considering that many cancer treatments make one experience nausea and lack of appetite - I can't believe some people would want to smoke cigarettes on top of that!
Judy Keen (not verified)
July 11, 2013 at 9:03 am
I agree with your assessment! I would think that smoking along with cancer treatment or recovery from surgery would just make you feel worse. While I cannot speak for anyone else, studies have indicated that some patients have a "why bother" attitude. They already have cancer, so why bother to stop smoking since the damage has already been done. Other studies show that smoking does increase mortality. It increases recovery time, reduces the efficacy of the medication, etc... As you said, we already know this! I think we need to really understand why cessation programs are not routine. Is it an education program for physicians and patients? Do we need to fight back with insurance companies to get coverage?

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