Quitting Smoking After Lung Cancer Diagnosis

Last Modified: November 20, 2009

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Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

What is the point to quitting smoking when I already have lung cancer? My family is on my case to quit, but it seems pointless.


Jared Weiss, MD, a Fellow in Hematology & Oncology at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

In the case of surgically curative disease, quitting decreases complication rates and improves wound healing. Further, quitting reduces the odds of getting a new smoking-related lung cancer or other cancer. Patients with a previous history of lung cancer are at elevated risk of additional cancers and this risk goes up further if they continue smoking.

I used to think that there was no point in quitting after a diagnosis of metastatic lung cancer. I saw my patients suffering from their cancer and figured that they had enough to deal with already. I figured that they should enjoy their cigarettes and not be bothered by quitting. My argument was one of quality of life. In observing and talking to patients, I’ve become less comfortable with the idea that quality of life really is better with ongoing smoking.

My lung cancer patients complain about shortness of breath and cough more than any other symptom. Although there is data, none of us need it to know that our patients feel much better from a pulmonary perspective without the cigarettes—we’ve seen it first hand. But there’s also data out there showing that smoking can increase the clotting risk; clots in the leg and lung are a major source of morbidity and mortality for lung cancer patients and so this matters too. There’s also data out there that patients who continue smoking have more pain than patients who stop. Finally, there’s the cancer itself. Data was presented at the Word Lung Conference this summer showing that lung cancer can bear receptors for nicotine; if this is true, smoking may actually spur the cancer on.

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series, Lung Cancer: Where are We Now? View the entire transcript.

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