Quitting Smoking After Your Breast Cancer Diagnosis: Is It Too Late?

One of the most important steps you should take after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis is to stop smoking, even if smoking has become a big part of your life. Despite smoking cessation being difficult to undertake due to the addictive properties of tobacco products, a journal article from Cancer Epidemiology says quitting success rates are higher among women affected with breast cancer, with the diagnosis serving as a motivator for behavioral and lifestyle changes.

Yet there are still patients who do not consider quitting since they believe that it’s too late and the damage has already been done or that the cancer was not directly caused by smoking, so quitting is no use. Thus, this article examines the mounting evidence of how smoking cessation significantly improves patients’ cancer prognosis, treatment, and overall quality of life.

Benefits of quitting for breast cancer patients

Oncologists strongly advise smoking cessation immediately after the diagnosis. Because of smoking’s influence on the immune tumor microenvironment, quitting improves the body’s response to chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. It was also previously discussed in a post on how to ‘Protect Your Gut During Chemo’ that quitting smoking can restore your gut health after treatment and even prevent stomach and bowel problems like diarrhea as the side effects of treatment. This can be attributed to how exposure to and inhalation of cigarette smoke disrupts the composition and bacterial species diversity of the gut microbiota.

Smoking cessation also positively influences the survival rate of breast cancer patients across all tumor stages. PubMed Central published an analysis of smoking’s impact on breast cancer survival and found that tobacco abstainers had higher survival rates than those who continued smoking. Patients experience prolonged survival outcomes from smoking cessation when their quit dates were as early as the time of diagnosis.

On top of lowering the risk of cancer-specific and all-cause mortality, quitting smoking also leads to fewer chances of developing new or secondary cancers and breast cancer recurrence. Smoking can also impair or slow down the process of wound healing, which means quitting can prevent postoperative complications from mastectomy and/or breast reconstruction surgery.

At the core of all these studies is the undeniable fact that it’s never too late to quit smoking, and the health benefits apply even if smoking was not identified as the cause of breast cancer.

Ways to quit smoking

It can be particularly challenging for breast cancer patients to quit smoking since it comes with withdrawal symptoms that can worsen or coincide with side effects from ongoing cancer treatment, e.g. fatigue, headaches, and nausea. In this light, smoking cessation aids in the form of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to help cope with the symptoms and transition to a tobacco-free lifestyle. Aside from over-the-counter NRTs like Nicorette gum, the On! nicotine pouches that can be bought online at Prilla come with different nicotine levels to better counteract cravings throughout the day. Combining these fast-acting oral products with the steady nicotine release of transdermal patches from brands like NicoDerm and Habitrol is recommended.

After ensuring that your cancer care team approves these medications, you can also look into intervention programs that offer targeted support for cancer patients. Washington University suggests smoking cessation treatment can now be recognized as another pillar of cancer care. Patient-centric strategies range from text-based counseling and apps designed to help you quit to support group referrals and personalized care recommendations. Integrating comprehensive tobacco and cancer treatment serves as additional motivation to quit while also making it easier for diagnosed patients to prevent relapses and maintain healthy lifestyles after cancer treatment.

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