Smoking While on Chemotherapy

Senior Woman With Husband During Chemotherapy Treatment

For decades, researchers and science professionals have conducted studies regarding the ill-effects of smoking. One of the most common findings based on actual results is the direct association between smoking and higher risks of cancer. It is, therefore, unsurprising to know that many cancer patients undergo chemotherapy while smoking, or are suffering from nicotine withdrawal symptoms.

Cigarette Smoking: A Major Cause of Cancer

Among other types, lung, head, and neck cancers are the most typical in smokers. Every year, 85% of those who are diagnosed with such cancer are associated with cigarette smoking.  According to studies, about one in every ten smokers is diagnosed with lung cancer, which is recognized as the “leading cause of cancer death in the United States”. It accounts for more than 30% of all deaths that are caused by cancer. It is also considered the most preventable type of cancer on a global level.

Based on the Cancer Facts & Figures 2014, out of the 224,210 cancer patients, 159,260 died of the illness. Lung cancer risks among women increase by 25.7% for smokers. Men are 25 times more prone to cancer if they smoke. This striking data was recorded despite the decline in cigarette use since 1964 when the first US Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health was first released.

Aside from lung cancer, first-hand and second-hand cigarette smoke is known to increase the risks of mouth and throat cancer, pancreatic cancer, and esophageal cancer. Unfortunately, some smokers are unable to quit until they are diagnosed with the chronic illness. Some of them quit the habit immediately and experience withdrawal symptoms while receiving treatment while others are unable to stop even when it is obviously necessary to do so.

Smoking While on Chemotherapy: How Bad Is It?

There is little known about the direct side effects of smoking while a patient undergoes chemotherapy, and it is not established whether the chemicals from the cigarette interferes with the chemicals in the medicine. However, studies show that smoking while receiving chemotherapy increases the medication’s unwanted side effects such as fatigue, weight loss, weakening of the muscles, and problems with the heart and lungs.

Because cigarette smoking damages the immune system, smokers who are diagnosed with cancer have an even higher risk of infection. Cancer alone puts a person in a semi-defenseless state from bacteria and viruses. Smoking amplifies the risk of getting sick, and further weakens the body.

Smoking also reduces the oxygen in the blood due to the carbon monoxide and other chemicals that it introduces into the body. As an effect, the amount of drug carried by the blood and absorbed by the body is reduced as well. The result is less effectiveness, slower progress in treatment, and longer periods of recovery.

What Happens When A Cancer Patient Quits Smoking?

After 24 hours of quitting, smokers claim to feel much better even under cancer treatment. Overall, there is sufficient evidence that quitting smoking, with or without a cancer diagnosis, lengthens the life of the person involved.

Nicotine, the primary addictive component of cigarettes, is flushed out within 72 hours from the last cigarette stick. This causes the cravings to heighten, making the third day mark a huge challenge for smoking cancer patients. Nonetheless, the positive benefits are more significant than the common withdrawal syndrome, which is common and momentary.

Bodily functions begin to return to normal within a few hours of quitting. Energy levels are increased (which is a huge advantage for lethargic cancer patients receiving chemotherapy). The risk of getting mouth sores, which is common when undergoing chemotherapy, is lowered. Food becomes more palatable as the tongue regains its sense of taste, and the patient recovers the full sense of smell.

Sleep likewise returns to normal. Since the nicotine from cigarette smoking no longer stimulates the mind and body of the cancer patient at night, his or her body can get enough rest and feel more rejuvenated upon waking up. As the body becomes healthier without the 7000 harmful chemicals in cigarettes, chemotherapy becomes more effective. The chances of surviving cancer are increased.

It is important for smokers to know that quitting, especially when diagnosed with cancer (or any other illness, in that case), is necessary for recovery and the prevention of secondary cancers. Medical professionals have a huge role in informing their patients regarding this matter. There are plenty of ways to quit smoking naturally, and it is never too late to stop such harmful habit.

Published: September 16, 2015


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10 comments on “Smoking While on Chemotherapy

  • Shay

    October 5, 2018 at 8:49 am

    Being human we are all prone to life’s ups and downs, being gentle with self is also very important and knowing that life is a temporary place for all beings and find a spiritual reason for life, death and existence. Reading all these I felt so much love and care. God is love and unconditional love.

  • Julie

    August 18, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    I was recently diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. I am having chemo and immunotherapy every 3 weeks. I know I brought on my lung cancer from being a long time smoker most of my adult life. I quit and switched to the e cig two years before I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. My Grandmother died of lung cancer and smoked until the day she died. I always talked about how stupid that was! Now I am in her same shoes with the same diagnosis. Let me shine some light about your Aunt and why (I believe) she went back to smoking after being diagnosed. The unusual emotional ups and downs with knowing you will die early, the emotional side effects of the treatments, and the fight to stay positive and cheery around the ones you love becomes a heavy burden that you carry alone, even though you have loved one’s supporting you. I had to figure this out myself as I bought a pack of cigarettes too after being diagnosed and have quit for 2 years too! Being a former long term smoker, the overwhelming feeling that I just explained and the challenges became too much of an emotional roller coaster and I was trying hard to wrap my head around it. I talked to my Doc and just now started on an antidepressant. But, in the meantime I went back to my old time friend that I remembered being there for me under stress and anxiety. Yep, my old buddy the cigarette. The friend that got me facing death now, but offered me comfort in dealing with hard situations. I sit here writing with a cig on my coffee table and after reading your post and your question made me think a lot, a whole lot, about why I am doing this and why did Grandma smoke with stage 4 lung cancer until she died. I know I am overwhelmed and the deep rooted memories of the cig helping me in stressful situations when I used to smoke kicked in big time. Such a strong mind trick that I bought a pack after quit for 2 years! On my, how to help your Aunt??? Have her read this, I am so sincere. I just figured it out why I am doing the same as your Aunt because your post made me think hard. I would also let her know that you understand she is going through an emotional burden that not even a caring niece can carry part of the burden. Of course she knows how much you love her, and how worried you are about her decision to smoke now after quitting for 2 years. I think once she realizes “why” she is doing this and makes a conscious effort to put her old buddy (the cig) into the right perceptive she may do what I just did. That is I just crushed my old buddy (cig) in pieces, ran it under water, and tossed it in the trash. My only kid, my grown daughter, is crushed knowing she will lose her Mom soon, a few years at best, is really hard for her. So, no more visits with my old buddy the cig for me now. A little more quality and maybe a few more months or so of life to share with her is means more than visiting my old friend cig. Your Aunt probably needs to really think about the “why” and what a deep rooted trick it is to back to her old friend Cig when all it cared about in the first place was to offer you temporarily comfort in exchange for your life. I hope this helped. I know it did me as someone in your Aunt’s shoes right now.

  • Haley

    June 23, 2018 at 12:19 am

    My grandmother has non hactus lymphoma right now she had this for almost a year and is currently going through chemo therapy and is on the patch we gave her the patch for 2 weeks but she would crave and not crave as much so we decided to give it to her when she asks because the box said give when needed and now she asks for cigarettes and says she will but them when she’s out and I’m worried for her health and well being because I can’t control her and in just trying to find a solution to help her with smoking addiction

  • Jolandi

    April 28, 2018 at 1:26 pm

    I am a breast cancer stage 2patient,currently on chemotherapy and struggling with worse side effects due to smoking, I prayed a lot about this addiction and I come to a conclusion that t o quite smoking, its more about your mindset then the physical addiction,healing and positive thinking must first take over your mind, start with faith in Jesus Christ our healer,work every minute with Him,talk to Him whenever the desire to smoke arises,plead for will power and strength to resist smoking urges,Im currently pleading for all cancer patient to find peace,faith and to totally to Jesus,like we have surrender to smoking, its a bit shameful to think that we are giving honor to the evil spirits instead of our loving creator,and Praise His Holy Name,we are still alive by His grace. We have time to make that crucial decision to quite, God loves us,let’s hold hands for a better future,whether on earth or in Heaven!!

  • LJ

    April 7, 2018 at 11:57 am

    Dear Alycyn,
    Is your Aunt still with us? It has been a year almost since you told her story. I wanted to suggest medical edible marijuana gummies to replace the cigarettes.

  • mary graham

    January 13, 2018 at 9:36 am

    Dear Alicyn,

    I read your story with great interest and sadness. I personally suffered breast cancer in 2010 which I survived however a short time after completion of my treatment I watched my husband die in July 2011 of lung cancer. In February 2017 in had a large part of my bowel removed due to a cancerous tumor which had ruptured. I was informed on Monday the 8th of January this cancer has now spread to both my lungs and at this point in time waiting to hear word for when my chemotherapy will begin. I have been a smoker since the age of 12 and even after all that still am. I can totally understand your aunts mindset when making comments like she feels she has nothing else to enjoy as i feel exactly the same and am in fact sitting here puffing away whilst writing to you. I do not know how old your aunt is and it does not really matter the fact is that she like myself has this awful disease and the chances are it will, at some point take our lives. She obviously has loving family round about her who want her to be here for as long as possible and I would give anything to have my husband back just for one day to speak to and if he had never smoked that would more or likely than be the case. I will remember her in my prayers and if she is still with hope that both she and I can find the strength to put out the cigarettes once and for all even if it only means just a little bit more time with our loved ones. I wish you all the very best.

  • Mike

    January 8, 2018 at 4:51 pm

    I’m a stage 4 Melanoma (both lungs) fighter and i too am a smoker undergoing treatment, Keytruda its called, its so hard to stop smoking and I to wonder if it will impede my treatment…I can relate…

  • Alicyn Marsh

    April 11, 2017 at 12:21 am

    I have an Aunt who was recently diagnosed with esophageal cancer (at stage 4), she has a tumor in her throat that is so large, she is unable to eat or drink anything by mouth, it all must be done through a feeding tube. When she was first diagnosed, she only weighed about 65 pounds. We had to wait for her to gain a bit of weight so that her body would be able to handle the chemo treatments. She had lost a lot of weight over a relatively short period of time, and always had a sore throat and many other symptoms, which caused her to see her PCP to be checked out. Unfortunately, they kept telling her that she just had really severe allergies. This is something that angered us after we finally got a second opinion at Dana-Farber in Boston, but that is a different story for a different day. To continue, she also has cancer in her tonsils, which is where her team of doctors believe it began, as well as lymphoma in her leg. Of course with this going undetected for so long, it progressed rapidly to stage 4. She was a heavy smoker for the majority of her life, and now at 69, has decided after two and a half years of not smoking at all, to return to it, since her cancer diagnosis. I can somewhat understand her anger and frustration and it breaks my heart. Her reasoning for smoking again is because she cannot enjoy any food or drink, so she says, “what else am I supposed to do, I have nothing else I can enjoy”. She also has emphysema to top it all off! Does anyone have any ideas or suggestions, or even experiences of their own, on how to let her know all of the dangers she is presenting to herself, and if there is a higher risk of her causing more damage, which I can almost be positive that there is?. I feel that if she were to read facts on the increased levels of harm she is causing herself by smoking again, it may increase her desire to want to stop again. Especially if she were to read someone else’s story who possibly was in a similar situation to her. Maybe someone can relate and that might make her feel a little more apt to listen to their advice, or at least it may resignate with her better than what I say to her. No matter what I have said, it has not worked, and she becomes very defensive. Like I keep repeating, and its out of desperation,..Any ideas or info, maybe even stories of your own expriences would be greatly appreciated and hopefully may give her the motivation and kick in the fanny that she needs to stop. I appreciate all of you reading my story and taking the time to comment if you do decide to do so. I will try anything and everything at this point to help her. I would be devastated to lose her, especially if it was because of something like smoking, where it could have been prevented and possibly given her a lot more time, although that is something that the doctors have yet to say, they have been very positive on her outcome after chemo is over and has run its course through her body and has done what it needs to do.
    Thank you all so much for any comments or suggestions, and sincerely wish you all the best of luck in your happiness and health.

    • Louise Cronian

      October 2, 2017 at 9:55 am

      I pray she stops. It is very hard. I started w sclc intermediate in left lung only carcinoma LLL well almost done n in remission spread to brain had 14 radiation treatments horrid am back on chemo opdivo every other week. I HAD HARDEST TIME NOT SMOKING people don’t understand how hard it is and tho k because they stop cancer goes away. I used E CIG she needs to feel something down her throat like smoking. Only after radiation and opdivo have I craved a cig and have had 4 in last 2 mo thats way to many. I have asthma copd emphazema5 there r times i feel now im a stage 4 n it spread after radiation was co fi ed ldft ling only now in both lungs n one big one totally outside lung in bloodstream. To sooth throat I suck on ceprecol cough drops eat cucumber. Radish celery GINGER ice cream like a shake viniger brush teeth using sensadyne toothpaste rinse with Listerine and Orajel liquid put toothpaste on brush dip in baking soda can also rinse in a bit of baking soda for taste n gums viniger dressing even dipping food in it I finally got back my smell n taste. Radiation does that rinse salt water chew on ice chips cold dri ks i dri k se.i warm then drink water. Eat soft foods potatoes a vitamin a day I use Centrum n there is a prescription pill to help eat. When u can’t taste food u dont want to eat also EGGS there is so much i wish her well e cig helped me quit she has to want to but I get same feeling I’m gonna die nothing working so why not smoke I use lemon 15mg to lowest. When I crave cig I now fight it n craved cig using opdivo chemo so I slipped up now fight it feeling if I’m craving it’s doing something.. go on Pinterest search for cancer foods. Cucumber ginger being best so much info. Hope it helped. God bless

    • Bebe

      November 11, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      I’m very sorry for your situation. I am in a similar situation and living in the same house. In my experience, there’s very little that gets through to a person in that case, especially if she quit and went back. The only thing I can think of is imploring her to consider the effects on you and other family and caretakers. Please take care of yourself during this difficult time.

      I suspect your aunt has rapidly declined since your post several months ago. She’s fortunate to have you and your love. Always know that you’ve done your best. Xo