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Cancer: Why it's worth quitting smoking

Cancer: Why it's worth quitting smoking

Cancer: Why it's worth quitting smoking

A study by Chinese and American researchers shows that quitting smoking increases the life expectancy of people newly diagnosed (lung, bladder, or colon).

Four researchers from the US and China tackled a difficult question: they wanted to find out what (positive) effects smoking cessation had on people who had recently been diagnosed with cancer.

It is estimated that less than half of smokers diagnosed with cancer quit smoking. This is a particularly difficult situation because patients are faced with the trauma of diagnosis on the one hand and the (known or perceived) harm of quitting smoking on the other.

Quitting smoking: a priority

A (small) proportion of these people think (for a variety of reasons) that quitting smoking is not an urgent priority. Unfortunately, many caregivers support them in this view because caregivers prioritize other things. And there is often nothing that makes quitting smoking a priority. Moreover, there is very little data on the subject. In theory, however, we know that quitting smoking is important: continuing to smoke alters the response to treatment and increases the risk of subsequent cancers and relapse.

It's never too late

This underscores the importance of the study led by Li Tao (Cancer Prevention Institute of California), just published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention1. In essence, the study shows that it is never too late to quit smoking and that it is essential.

To reach these conclusions, the authors analyzed data from the Shanghai cohort study. This is a cohort of 18,244 men (aged 45 to 64 years) living in this Chinese megacity who were followed for 20 years. One of the objectives of the study is to examine the relationship between lifestyle and cancer risk.

Smoking Habit

Volunteers provided a variety of data on smoking habits, alcohol consumption, eating habits, and medical history. It should be noted that cancer is currently the leading cause of premature death among men in China.

In 2010, 3310 men were diagnosed with cancer. Researchers conducted detailed analyses of 1632 men in this group. It was found that 57% of these patients had died.

20% were nonsmokers, 33% had stopped smoking before diagnosis, and 46% were smokers at the time of diagnosis.

Increased risk of death

In this group, 29% of patients stopped smoking after diagnosis, 26% continued to smoke, and 45% smoked occasionally. It is now well established that men who continue to smoke (or even start or resume smoking) have a higher risk of death than those who stop smoking. This is after statistically adjusting for possible confounding factors (age, type of cancer, type of treatment).

Men who were already smokers at the time of diagnosis and continued to smoke had a 76 percent increased risk. The researchers explain that these results vary depending on the type of cancer. The risk was almost three times higher for bladder cancer and more than twice as high for colorectal and lung cancer.

Five months later

 The study was conducted on 5338 people with lung and colorectal cancer at the time of diagnosis and five months later.

Why did they give up?

At the time of diagnosis, 39% of lung cancer patients and 14% of colorectal cancer patients smoked. Five months later, these rates were 14% and 9%, respectively. Why did this happen? With lung cancer, patients usually have a low body mass index and lack good psychological support from family or doctor. They also often suffer from heart disease and have been heavy smokers. These patients do not seem to have the same physiological and psychological resources to quit smoking successfully.

The authors of this article note that although most colleagues understand the importance of talking to patients about smoking cessation, few actually do so in practice. It is now widely recognized that effective smoking cessation programs for cancer patients are an important measure for optimizing treatment effectiveness and, consequently, quality and life expectancy.


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