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Cessation Benefits

The extensive negative effects of tobacco use in relation to health have been well-documented in scientific literature and to a lesser extent in the media. Less well-known, however, are the specific risks to individuals already diagnosed with cancer.

There is growing literature on the direct and indirect effects of smoking and secondhand smoking on treatment effectiveness (short-term and long-term outcomes), toxicity, quality of life, return of the cancer or development of a second tumor and survival. Tobacco use by cancer patients can complicate a wide variety of treatments, including radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery (Gritz, Dresler & Sarna, 2005).

A cancer patient who used tobacco products may have caused sufficient damage to the heart, lungs or other organs that he or she may not be able to withstand the optimal cancer care. 

However, patients already diagnosed with cancer can still benefit greatly from quitting their tobacco use. Not only will patients benefit from tobacco cessation, but physicians will have fewer complications when implementing various cancer treatments, possibly saving valuable time and resources and improving outcomes of clinical trials.

Some of the negative effects of tobacco use on a cancer patient’s treatment and quality of life are listed below.

Improved Surgical Recovery

  • Reduced wound healing time (Frick et al., 1994)
  • Reduced pulmonary, circulatory and infectious complications (Bluman et al., 1998; Morton et al., 1994)
  • Reduced post-operative admittance to Intensive Care Unit (ICU) (Moller et al., 2001)

Improved Quality of Life Scores

  • Persistent cigarette smoking after lung cancer diagnosis negatively affects quality of life (Garces et al., 2004)

Risks of Continued Smoking in Patients Treated with Radiotherapy

  • Lower response rates, poorer survival and exacerbated side effects (Browman et al., 1993)
  • Difficulty regaining satisfactory voice quality (Karim et al., 1983)
  • Higher risk for developing second malignant tumors (Hiyama et al., 1992)

Risk of Continued Smoking in Patients Treated with Chemotherapy

  • Long-term pulmonary toxicity (Lehne et al., 1993)
  • Suppression of immune function (Tollerud et al., 1989)

Quitting Today 

If a patient stops smoking today, his or her risk of:

  • Stroke is reduced to that of a non-smoker after five to 15 years
  • Cancer of the mouth, throat and esophagus is reduced by 50% after five years compared to continuing smokers
  • Cancer of the larynx is reduced compared to continuing smokers
  • Coronary heart disease is reduced by 50% one year after quitting compared to a smoker; risk returns to that of a nonsmoker after 15 years
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is reduced compared to continuing smokers
  • Lung cancer is reduced by 50% after 10 years compared to continuing smokers
  • Pancreatic cancer is reduced after 10 years compared to continuing smokers.
    Ulcers are reduced
  • Bladder cancer is reduced by 50% a few years after quitting
  • Peripheral artery disease is reduced compared to continuing smokers
  • Cervical cancer is reduced by a few years compared to continuing smokers
  • Low-birthweight babies are reduced to that of a nonsmoker in women who quit before pregnancy or during the first trimester

[DHHS Publication No. (CDC) 90-8419]

The Tobacco Treatment Program would like to express gratitude to Dr. Joel Dunnington for his assistance with the development of this information.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center