Quitting Smoking After a Lung Cancer Diagnosis: Is It Too Late?

You’ve gotten the news. Now what?

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Upon hearing your doctor say those two dreaded words—lung cancer—your goals to quit smoking may have hit a roadblock. You had decided your New Year’s resolution next year would be to prioritize your health and give up cigarettes for good, but now you’ve received the diagnosis. Is quitting cigarettes still worth it, or is it a lost cause?

True, the cancer cells are already present. However, quitting is far from a lost cause. “If a lung cancer patient is an active smoker, we encourage the patients to quit smoking,” says Kevin Sullivan, MD, lung oncologist at Monter Cancer Center, Northwell Health.

Although quitting smoking is often linked to preventing lung cancer, it can also help you survive lung cancer after being diagnosed. Quitting cigarettes may increase your chance of survival, slow cancer growth, and help prevent complications. Find out how else the body benefits when you quit smoking.

The Risks of Continue to Smoke After a Lung Cancer Diagnosis

If you have early-stage lung cancer, quitting smoking upon your diagnosis may stop or slow the progression of the cancer. (Learn more about the stages of lung cancer here.) If you continue to smoke, the lung cancer may recur after treatment, it may spread to other parts of the body, or a new cancer may develop.

“If you continue to smoke, you may have another cancer,” says Jorge Gomez, MD, a lung oncologist at Mount Sinai Hospital. For example, smoking is linked to cancers of not just the lungs, but also the larynx, mouth, esophagus, throat, bladder, kidney, liver, stomach, pancreas, colon, rectum, and cervix, according to the National Cancer Institute.

For people with advanced stages of lung cancer, quitting smoking may reduce complications from the cancer or cancer treatment. “Those patients [who continue smoking] are going to continue to have respiratory symptoms from the tobacco, their chronic pulmonary obstructive disease can get worse, and tobacco may interfere with some of the targeted therapies,” says Dr. Gomez.

Continuing to smoke cigarettes after a lung cancer diagnosis may double your risk of mortality, according to a 2010 study in the journal Oncology.

Why Quitting Is So Hard for Lung Cancer Patients

Quitting smoking is hard enough as it is. For some smokers, a lung cancer diagnosis can either motivate them to finally quit, or actually make them feel defeated and make quitting less appealing.

“For patients who are smokers and have been diagnosed with lung cancer, they often feel that it’s pointless for them to try and quit,” says Dr. Sullivan. As with anything in life, people are less likely to do something if they feel they are “doomed” for failure.

Remember, smoking is highly addictive and difficult to quit, and your medical team wants to help you succeed. “All patients or all people who smoke need help quitting smoking,” says Dr. Gomez.

While there are medications and support programs to help people quit smoking, Dr. Sullivan says the most important factor is having the willingness to quit. “If the patient does not have the desire or willingness to quit smoking,” says Dr. Sullivan, “my experience is that—until they’re ready to try and quit—it won’t happen.”

For help “kicking butt,” here are effective strategies to help quitting smoking today.