There’s no debate: Using tobacco is one of the worst things you can do for your health. According to the American Cancer Society, smoking accounts for 30% of all cancer deaths in the U.S.
Most people associate tobacco use with lung cancer, but smoking or chewing tobacco can cause cancer elsewhere in the body. Tobacco can cause cancer in the kidneys, liver, and stomach, as well as many other organs.
Continued tobacco use is even worse for people who already have cancer.
How Tobacco Use Affects People With Cancer
Tobacco affects the whole body. When you’re already living with cancer, it can make symptoms worse and decrease your ability to heal. Here’s what can happen when people with cancer continue to smoke or chew tobacco:
- Cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy don’t work as well.
- Surgical wounds take longer to heal.
- You may experience additional heart or breathing problems.
- You may get blood clots in your legs or lungs.
- Cancers may progress faster and may recur more often than in people who don’t use tobacco.
The good news? Quitting smoking and other tobacco products can improve your health even after a cancer diagnosis, says Lyn Robertson, DrPH, MSN, BSN.
Robertson is the Associate Director of Health Equity and Community Outreach and Engagement for UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. She is part of a team that oversees the Tobacco Treatment Service at UPMC Hillman.
“It’s very hard to quit smoking or other tobacco use because it’s an addiction,” says Robertson. “But people often are more open to — and more successful at — quitting at the time of their cancer diagnosis.”
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Advantages to Quitting Tobacco After Cancer Diagnosis
There are many reasons to quit smoking after you receive a cancer diagnosis. After you quit smoking, you may:
- Tolerate treatment better.
- Have fewer side effects.
- Have less toxicity from medications.
- Have fewer side effects from surgery.
- Lessen the chance of the cancer recurring or a new cancer forming.
- Increase your quality of life.
Changes you may notice when you quit tobacco
Once people with cancer quit tobacco, the changes happen quickly, says Robertson. You may notice:
- You breathe easier.
- Food tastes better.
- You don’t get as tired.
- Your sense of smell is more acute.
- You have more energy.
The UPMC Tobacco Treatment Service
People who are getting treatment at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center have access to “Now’s the Time – Quit for Life Tobacco Treatment Program.”
The service is free to those who are already seeing UPMC doctors.
The UPMC Tobacco Treatment Service consists of specially trained tobacco cessation counselors. The service pairs them with people who have cancer. The counselors:
- Work with your health care team, including cancer doctors, to coordinate care.
- Offer a one-to-one relationship that helps support you in quitting tobacco.
- Help you set personal goals for how and when to quit.
- Offer education about the effects of tobacco.
- Connect you with literature and other resources to help you quit tobacco.
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Barriers to Quitting Tobacco
Of course, it’s not easy to quit smoking or chewing tobacco. People become addicted to nicotine. There are other barriers to quitting, especially for people with cancer.
People often smoke tobacco as a stress-reliever. “We hear people say all the time that they feel stressed because of the cancer,” says Robertson. “One of our goals is to educate people in other ways to deal with stress.”
When everyone around you is smoking, it’s much more difficult to quit — even after a cancer diagnosis, says Robertson. A supportive tobacco cessation counselor can help.
Lack of desire to quit
“Some people will simply say they don’t want to quit,” she says. “But we keep asking, and over time some people come around. It may not be this week or next week, but eventually they may decide to quit.”
Contact the UPMC Tobacco Treatment Service
To contact the UPMC Tobacco Treatment Service, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPMC Health Plan members can also sign up for free health coaching by phone. To contact a health coach about quitting smoking or tobacco use, call 1-866-778-6073(TTY 711). Or log in to MyHealth OnLine to chat with a coach.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tobacco and Cancer, Link
American Cancer Society, Health Risks of Smoking Tobacco, Link
National Cancer Institute, Assessing Cancer Patient Tobacco Use, Link
National Institutes of Health, Tobacco smoking after diagnosis of cancer: clinical aspects. Link
Lyn B. Robertson, DrPH, MSN, BSNAssociate Director for Health Equity and Community Outreach & Engagement
Assistant Professor of Medicine, School of Medicine
Assistant Professor GSPH, CBHS
Assistant Professor School of Nursing
University of Pittsburgh
5150 Centre Avenue, Suite 438
Pittsburgh, PA 15232
UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 70 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and Maryland, with more than 200 oncologists. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment.