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.

One Comment

  1. 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.
    Alicyn

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