When you've been diagnosed with cancer--particularly lung cancer--it may be hard to think or talk about quitting smoking. Why? Because you smoke even though everybody knows that smoking is bad for your health. And everyone knows that it can cause cancer. Plus, we also know that quitting is hard.
Over the years, perhaps you have tried to quit. Or maybe you wanted to, or planned on it, but never did. Now that you're faced with cancer, you may be overwhelmed with guilt, or focused on your treatment. You may not even be thinking about quitting smoking. Or you may be thinking, "I've got cancer; it makes no sense now."
"It makes a lot of sense to try to stop," says Greg Videtic, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic's Radiation Oncology Department. "Quitting smoking seems to have an impact, not just in terms of feeling better, but in terms of how long people with cancer live," he says.
Videtic looked at a group of limited-stage small-cell lung cancer patients over 10 years.
He compared the survival rates of the people who continued to smoke during treatment to the people who quit. Using medical records, the researchers found 186 people who had standard chemotherapy with radiation treatment. These people provided information about their smoking habits. All of them were smokers, and 58 percent had stopped smoking before they started treatment. Researchers found that the people who stopped smoking lived longer, on average, than those who continued to smoke.
A lot of doctors may not encourage people to quit smoking after being diagnosed with cancer, especially lung cancer. One of the reasons is that they don't want to make people feel bad. "People still need to be encouraged," says Videtic. "I don't go on blaming them; I just say, "Look, you are where you are, but there is even more we can do to help you."
While Videtic's research looked only at people with lung cancer, he feels comfortable encouraging all people with cancer to quit smoking. "About a year ago, I was talking to a younger woman who had breast cancer, and she was smoking," says Videtic. "I said to her, "There's evidence from other areas in the body that quitting has an impact. If you're going to put yourself through this fairly aggressive treatment with the hope that it will do better for you, then maybe you should consider not smoking." A week later she came back and said it was exactly what she needed to hear in order to stop smoking.
Videtic's study is one among other recent research studies that give evidence to smokers with cancer that it's never too late to quit. His research suggests that smoking may interfere with how well the treatment works. "One of the bad things about smoking is that it has a multiple impact," says Videtic. So exactly how it affects cancer and treatment is a hard thing to determine.
Research is also looking into how continuing to smoke may affect the spread of cancer. Plus, studies have shown that if you stop smoking after you've completed your treatment, you have a lower risk of getting another cancer afterward.
"While that's slightly different in that it is after the treatment," says Videtic, "it tells us that if you cure the first cancer, by continuing to smoke, you do have a higher risk for a second cancer."
This information is not supposed to make people feel guilty, Videtic explains. He usually tells people, "Here's a piece of information you might want to know if you're thinking about getting treatment because this will help you, too. Most people are usually glad to know that they can still do something to help themselves."
To find support in your area, visit the American Cancer Society's website, www.cancer.org. You can also call the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) Cancer Information Service toll-free number, 1-800-4-CANCER, (800-422-6237) or visit their website, www.cancer.gov.