Smoking in Cancer Care (PDQ®)
This summary is about cancer patients who smoke, why it is important to stop smoking, and ways to get help. It includes information on the following:
- Risks of smoking in cancer patients, including second cancers.
- Counseling to help cancer patients quit smoking.
- Treatment with drugs to help cancer patients quit smoking.
Smoking and Cancer Risk
Smoking increases the risk of cancer.
Smoking is the leading cause of cancer in the United States. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the United States. If you smoke, your risk of cancer can be up to 10 times higher than it is for a person who never smoked.
Smoking increases cancer risk by:
Your risk depends on how much and how long you have smoked.
Lung cancer and other types of cancers are linked to tobacco use.
Cancer risks linked to tobacco use include the following:
- Lung cancer and head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco use.
- People who started smoking before age 30 and have been smoking for a long time have a high risk of colorectal cancer.
- In smokers diagnosed with cancer, the cancer is more likely to have already spread.
See the following for more information:
Risks of Smoking During Cancer Treatment
Quitting smoking is helpful after cancer is diagnosed.
If you keep smoking, you may not respond well to treatment.
If you continue to smoke during cancer treatment, you may not respond to treatment as well as patients who do not smoke. Also, you may have worse side effects from treatment. For example, patients who are given radiation therapy for laryngeal cancer are less likely to get their voice back to normal if they keep smoking.
Wounds from surgery heal more slowly in patients who keep smoking. Studies have found that prostate cancer patients who keep smoking have a higher risk of the cancer coming back, and of death from prostate cancer. However, prostate cancer patients who quit smoking for 10 years or longer lower their risk of death to about the same as nonsmokers.
Cancer patients who keep smoking increase their risk of having a second cancer.
You have a higher risk of a second cancer if you keep smoking, whether you have a cancer that is smoking-related or not smoking-related. The risk of a second cancer may last for up to 20 years, even if the first cancer has been treated and is in remission (signs and symptoms of cancer have disappeared). Patients with oral and pharyngeal cancer who smoke have a high risk of a second cancer, but the risk is much less after 5 years of not smoking.
Counseling to Help You Quit Smoking
Counseling may make it easier for you to quit smoking.
It is not easy to quit smoking and research has shown that people are more likely to quit if they have help. Mood changes are common in cancer patients and in people who smoke or are trying to quit smoking. Talk with your doctor if you have feelings of depression. Your doctor can offer counseling or other ways to help you quit smoking and treat depression when needed.
Not all smokers are motivated to quit. If you are not motivated to quit smoking, your doctor may be able to help you become motivated.
Your doctor or other health care professional may take the following steps to help you quit:
- Ask you about your smoking habits at every visit.
- Advise you to quit smoking.
- Help you with a plan to quit smoking by:
- Setting a date to quit smoking.
- Giving you self-help materials.
- Recommending drug treatment.
- Plan follow-up visits with you.
It may take more than one try to quit smoking completely.
When you first quit smoking, it is common to start again. There will be many stressful times that will make you want to smoke. Counseling can help you find ways to handle the stress other than by smoking. It may take more than a year to quit smoking completely, even when you are motivated.
Treatment With Medicine to Help You Quit Smoking
There are different ways to stop smoking.
Nicotine replacement therapy may help you quit smoking.
- Feeling depressed.
- Feeling nervous.
- Having trouble thinking clearly.
- Having trouble sleeping.
Nicotine replacement products include the following:
Talk with your doctor before you start any form of treatment. Nicotine replacement products can cause problems in some people, especially:
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- Patients younger than 18 years.
- Patients who have the following conditions:
- Patients who keep smoking, chewing tobacco, or using snuff.
Other medicines may also help you quit smoking.
The following drugs, which do not have nicotine in them, are used to help people quit smoking:
- Varenicline (also called Chantix). Varenicline is a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that acts the same way nicotine acts in the brain. In June 2011, the FDA warned that varenicline may increase the risk of heart problems in patients with cardiovascular disease. Other side effects of varenicline include the following:
- Bupropion (also called Zyban). Bupropion is an antidepressant approved by the FDA to help people quit smoking.
- Fluoxetine (also called Prozac). Fluoxetine is an antidepressant and studies have shown that it can help people quit smoking.
These medicines lessen nicotine craving and nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
Fluoxetine causes an increased risk of suicide in adults younger than 25 years. In July 2009, the FDA warned that varenicline and bupropion may cause depression, suicide, and other mental health changes in patients who take them. These changes include:
- Extreme mood changes.
- Psychosis (not being able to recognize what is real or relate to others).
- Hallucinations (a sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch that the patient believes to be real but is not real).
- Paranoia (an extreme fear or distrust of others).
- Delusions (believing something that is not true).
- Homicidal thoughts (thoughts about killing others).
- Hostility (having or showing unfriendly feelings).
- Agitation (inability to relax or be still).
- Anxiety (feelings of fear, dread, and uneasiness that may be a reaction to stress).
- Panic (sudden extreme anxiety or fear that may cause irrational thoughts or actions).
- Suicidal thoughts and attempted suicide.
These mental health changes may occur in patients with or without a history of psychiatric illness and it is not known if nicotine withdrawal is a part of this. (See the Depression and Suicide section in the PDQ summary on Pediatric Supportive Care.)
All patients taking these medicines, especially those with a history of psychiatric illness, should be followed closely by a doctor.
The FDA recommends that the important health benefits of quitting smoking be weighed against the small but serious risk of problems with the use of these drugs.
To Learn More About Smoking in Cancer Care
For more information about smoking in cancer care, see the following: