Concerns about Tobacco and Substance Use

If you are smoking or using any substances (alcohol, drugs, medications not prescribed for you etc.), it is important to share this information with your health care team know so that you can work together to get the most out of your cancer treatment, manage any side effects and to avoid any complications. 

People with cancer who stop smoking or get treatment for drug or alcohol abuse experience many benefits that improve cancer treatment and their overall health. If you are interested in help with substance abuse or want to stop smoking, your health care team can connect you to resource that will help you reach this goal.
Quitting smoking anytime will have benefits to your health. Stopping smoking has been shown to:
  • Increase your chances of survival. Studies have generally shown that a longer length of timebetween stopping smoking and the start of cancer treatment the better your chance of recovery (prognosis) will be. Stopping smoking can lower the risk of treatment side effects and may improve the effectiveness of the treatment.
  • Lower your risk of developing a secondary cancer. Quitting smoking, even at the time of diagnosis, can significantly lower the risk of developing secondary cancers (cancers that develop because of treatment for the first cancer). However, the length of time and amount a person smoked also influences the development of such cancers.
  • Improve quality of life in people with cancer. People who smoke and people diagnosed with cancer both have a lower quality of life than non-smokers or those who have quit smoking. In one study, people treated for head and neck cancer who were former smokers had a significantly higher quality of life after one year compared with patients who had not stopped smoking.

Stopping smoking after your diagnosis also has benefits as you are being treated. For example, quitting smoking, even shortly before surgery has been found to reduce complications. In addition, radiation therapy is more effective for smokers who quit before receiving therapy. Although less is known about effects of smoking during chemotherapy, smoking has the potential to increase side effects including weight loss, fatigue, and lung and heart problems. In addition, smoking during chemotherapy may suppress the immune system and increase the risk of infection.

Talking with Your Doctor about Your Tobacco Use
To begin the process of successfully quitting tobacco, talk with your doctor about your tobacco use. Understanding your situation can help the doctor determine the appropriate course of treatment needed to help you break nicotine dependence or help you remain nicotine-free. Also consider talking with your doctor about getting a referral to a professionally trained smoking cessation counselor or mental health counselor.

Community Resources
In addition to your doctor, a variety of community resources can aid and support your efforts to stop
  • The National Cancer Institute's (NCI) toll-free telephone quitline: 800-QUITNOW (800- 784-8669)
  • Smoking and Tobacco Use, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • The American Cancer Society's (ACS ) Guide to Quitting Smoking and toll-free telephone quit-line from the ACS: 800-ACS-2345 (800-227-2345)
  • American Lung Association Freedom from Smoking Online cessation program

Talking to Your Doctor about Alcohol or Illegal Drug Use
In order to plan for the most effective treatment and to manage any side effects you may have it is very important that your health care team is aware of your history of using alcohol and other drugs especially illegal substance use. Your health care team may ask you about your use of alcohol or illegal drugs but even if they don’t you should volunteer this information. Drugs and alcohol can interact with other medications you are taking or with your cancer treatment in ways that will prevent you from getting the most benefit. You should not worry that you will be denied care if you are honest about your substance abuse. Your team may encourage you to try to stop your use of these substances or limit the amounts in order to minimize the harm they can do to the success treatment of your cancer and in managing and side effects you are experiencing. If you are interested in getting help for addictions to alcohol or drugs your health care team will be able to help you locate treatment. 

• Treatment Facility Locator Toll-free number: 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357)
• Alcoholics Anonymous:

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