According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in the body. It is also known to decrease the effectiveness of cancer treatments, reduce survival time and increase the probability of recurrence. Yet despite all this, a new study has found that smoking habits can continue long after a cancer diagnosis has been made.

A report published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), has found that 9.3% of cancer survivors in the US were regular smokers 9 years after their cancer diagnosis.

Dr. Roy Herbst, chair of the AACR Tobacco and Cancer Subcommittee and chief of medical oncology at Yale University, says the findings of the report highlighted a significant health problem:

“Smoking can cause new mutations among cancer survivors that can lead to secondary and additional primary cancers. It can also affect physical function and interfere with the efficacy of therapies. We need to take note of this and target this population for intervention.”

The research team from the American Cancer Society (ACS) analyzed data on 2,938 survivors of different types of cancer, selected by random sampling from nationwide cancer registries. The study was longitudinal and measured the cancer patients’ quality of life.

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The study suggests that following up cancer survivors with regard to their smoking habits after initial treatment and recovery is warranted.

The researchers found the following percentages of cancer patients still smoking, 9 years after their cancer diagnosis:

  • Bladder cancer: 17.2%
  • Lung cancer: 14.9%
  • Ovarian cancer: 11.6%
  • Melanoma cancer: 7.6%
  • Kidney cancer: 7.3%
  • Colorectal cancer: 6.8%.

Those who smoked daily were found to smoke on average around 15 cigarettes a day. Survivors who were young, had low levels of education and income or consumed high levels of alcohol were found to be more likely to smoke.

Of the patients surveyed, 40% of the smokers reported that they planned to quit smoking within the next month. The intention to quit was lower in older cancer survivors, survivors who were married or smoked more than the average amount.

“Smoking is addictive and having cancer does not guarantee that you will stop, even if that cancer was directly tied to your smoking. We need to do more to intervene with these patients,” says Lee Westmaas, lead author of the study and director of tobacco research at the ACS.

The authors state that their findings suggest a dependence on tobacco in those continuing to smoke. They also believe that addressing specific psychosocial characteristics, such as perceptions of risk and fatalistic beliefs, could influence the motivation to quit.

The study benefits from using registry-reported cancer diagnosis, minimizing the risk of cancer misclassification. There may be limitations in the potential unreliability of self-reporting smoking, however previous studies have found that the self-reporting of smoking and not smoking is reliable in cancer patients.

For future research into cancer survivors smoking and their motivation to quit, the authors suggest that population-based studies should be conducted to examine the importance of psychosocial variables and their relationships to other health-related variables.

The authors want to identify which cancer survivors are most at risk from continued smoking in order to tailor cessation programs for the most vulnerable patients.

“We need to follow up with cancer survivors long after their diagnoses to see whether they are still smoking and offer appropriate counseling, interventions, and possible medication to help them quit,” says Westmaas.

Medical News Today previously reported on a study that found brain activity could explain why some smokers find it hard to quit.