Quitting smoking: Is it ever too late?

Quitting smoking: Is it ever too late?

Joanne H. Ebner, RN, BSN, COHN-S is a Cancer Prevention Nurse at AAMC. Her article, focusing on the importance of smoking cessation, even after a cancer diagnosis, was published in the July edition of the Oncology Nursing Society’s (ONS) newsletter, Prevention/Early Detection.

As nurses, telling clients to quit smoking can be challenging. The difficulties associated with quitting tobacco are well known. Now imagine asking a client to quit smoking after he or she has been newly diagnosed with cancer. It may seem counter intuitive to begin counseling a client to quit once a diagnosis of cancer has been confirmed. New research, however, is shedding light on the benefits of quitting smoking even after a cancer diagnosis.

Most research up until now has focused on clients with heart disease who continued to smoke and rightfully so, because tobacco use is a major contributing factor to heart disease. New research studied the effects of smoking on the postoperative outcome of lung cancer surgery (Parsons, Daley, Begh, & Aveyard, 2010). Patients underwent surgery for primary lung cancer and were divided into three groups—nonsmokers, former smokers, and current smokers. Five-year survival rates were 56.2%, 40.9%, and 34.0%, respectively. Smoking was a significant factor affecting the postoperative prognosis of patients undergoing surgery for lung cancer. Deaths were not necessarily related to the lung cancer diagnosis but also included other diseases such as multi-organ failure, respiratory disorders, cardiovascular disease, and events related to surgery. This is not surprising news given that smoking impacts the body’s immune system and its ability to heal.

The health effects of smoking are far-reaching. Not only is it the main contributor to lung cancer (approximately 90% of lung cancers are associated with smoking) but recent research shows that continued use of nicotine impacts the treatment of lung cancer as well. In a study in the American Journal of Respiration, nicotine was found to cause lung cancer tumor progression and resistance to therapy. In other words, nicotine is protective of the abnormal cells.

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