Tobacco Use Treatment for People Who Have Cancer

What We Know About Tobacco Use & Cancer

Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, including about 70 known carcinogens. The chemicals in tobacco smoke can bind to the body’s DNA molecules and cause changes, making errors in genetic material. This can lead to abnormal cell growth known as cancer.

Smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in the body. In the United States (U.S.), one out of every three cancer deaths is related to cigarette smoking. Tobacco use is known to cause cancers of the lung, larynx, oral cavity and pharynx, esophagus, pancreas, bladder, stomach, liver, colon and rectum, kidney and renal pelvis, cervix, and acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

A male doctor speaks with an elderly Asian patient wearing a blue shirt.

This risk is not limited to cigarettes. Other tobacco products like cigars, cigarillos, bidis, and hookahs increase risk of various types of cancers. There is also evidence to suggest that e-cigarettes or vapes may contribute to increased cancer risk, as it also involves heating and inhaling toxins like heavy metals, flavor chemicals, and volatile organic compounds. Smokeless tobaccos (often called chew, snuff, dip, or snus) can cause cancer too, and not just of the mouth or throat. Additionally, secondhand tobacco exposure is a known cause of lung cancer.

Effects of Tobacco Use for People Who Have Cancer

Not only can tobacco use cause cancer, but research shows that in both patients with cancer and cancer survivors, tobacco use:

  • Increases the risk of death, including death from cancer;
  • Increases the risk for development of additional primary cancers which are smoking-related;
  • May increase risk of cancer recurrence; and
  • May result in poorer treatment response and increased treatment-related toxicity.

Regardless of the known negative health effects of tobacco use use on people who have cancer and the fact that smoking increases the failure rate of treatments for all types of cancer, up to two-thirds of cancer patients continue to smoke after their diagnosis and/or treatment. Some patients diagnosed with lung cancer also continue to smoke, even though 90% of lung cancer cases in the U.S. are attributed to cigarette smoking.

Importance of Tobacco Use Treatment Related to Cancer

Quitting tobacco is one of the most important actions people who smoke can take to improve their health, reducing the risk of developing 12 different types of cancer now and overtime. This is true for all people who smoke, regardless of age or smoking duration and intensity.

For patients who have cancer, studies suggest that quitting tobacco can significantly reduce their mortality, improve their prognosis, and reduce their risk of other diseases or a secondary cancer.

Strategies for Healthcare Professionals

Healthcare professionals working in oncology care should educate their patients about the harmful health effects of tobacco use and ask every patient about their use. If your patient indicates they do use tobacco or nicotine products, start by letting them know it’s not too late to quit, and that quitting tobacco can significantly improve their overall health. Engage in patient-centered conversations about quitting, refer them to the appropriate treatment option(s), and follow-up with them at every visit regarding their quit plan.

For individuals who are interested in quitting and willing to use the services available offered by QuitNow-NH, there are multiple ways to make a referral, outlined on our Patient Referral Forms page. Patients who are under the age of 18 can sign up for the free, confidential My Life, My Quit program where they can text, call, or enroll online.

Using a team approach is the best way to treat tobacco use and dependence. Healthcare professionals should integrate treatment into the routine clinical workflow and engaging the entire healthcare team in treatment delivery can make a difference.

Additional Resources

QuitWorks-NH at a Glance

QuitWorks-NH Tools

CDC: Smoking and Cancer – What Healthcare Professionals Need to Know