Reasons to Quit Smoking With Lung Cancer

Can Quitting Smoking Affect Outcome with Lung Cancer?

woman holding cigarettes in one hand and cutting them with a scissors
Does quitting smoking after a diagnosis of lung cancer help?.

Does it make a difference if you quit smoking after a diagnosis of lung cancer?  If so, in what way?

Quitting Smoking With Lung Cancer Makes a Difference

The answer to this question is an overwhelming yes!  Quitting smoking after you have been diagnosed with lung cancer can and does make a difference, and in many ways.

It's important to note that making this claim as non-smokers doesn't mean we think it's easy.

We know that quitting smoking is hard. We know that the stress of a cancer diagnosis can make it seem overwhelming. Yet research tells us that it not only helps but is possible.  Five months after a diagnosis of lung cancer, only 14 percent of people with the disease remain smokers.  Let's talk about the benefits, but also ways to make this daunting task feel doable for you today.

Benefits of Quitting Smoking When You Have Lung Cancer

Not long ago, doctors didn't say much if someone continued to smoke after a diagnosis of lung cancer. It was felt, in many ways, that the damage was done.  The topic was avoided for other reasons as well. With the limited treatment options and poor survival rates for lung cancer, even at the dawn of the new millennium, it sometimes seemed futile.

Yet all of that is changing. Treatments for lung cancer have improved dramatically.  There were more new treatments approved for lung cancer between 2011 and 2015 than in the forty year period prior to 2011.

 And along with improved treatments have come improved survival rates. Many people are now living for many years even with the most advanced stages of the disease.

In discussing benefits, however, it's important to talk about more than just survival. Quality of life and ability to tolerate treatments are sometimes put on the back burner but are central to your well-being at this time.

 Let's talk about some of the ways that quitting may improve not only your survival, but your ability to enjoy the life you have today.

1. Quitting Smoking May Improve Lung Cancer Survival

In the past, we knew that smoking cessation could improve survival rates with early stage lung cancers, but we didn't really know about its effect on advanced stage cancers. We now know that it improves survival at all stages of the disease. In a recent study of 250 patients, it was found that those patients with advanced lung cancer who quit smoking lived longer.  This translated to a median survival (the amount of time after which 50 percent are alive and 50 percent have died) of 28 months for people who quit smoking, versus 18 months for those who continued to smoke.  There may even be a survival benefit for those who attempt quitting but do not quite completely.

2. Quitting Can Make Lung Cancer Surgery More Successful with Fewer Complications

Those who quit smoking prior to lung cancer surgery have better survival rates than those who continue to smoke.

In addition, those who kick the habit have fewer complications such as infections and blood clots. And during recovery, smoking is well-known for causing problems with delayed wound healing

3. Quitting May Improve Your Response to Chemotherapy

Some studies have found that not just smoking, but nicotine specifically may decrease responses to chemotherapy. In one study it was found that nicotine promoted resistance to Platinol (cisplatin) a commonly used drug for lung cancer, in lung cancer cells.

4. Quitting May Improve Your Response to Targeted Therapies

For patients with lung cancer positive for an EGFR mutation, medications such as Tarceva (erlotinib) have improved survival even for people with advanced stages of the disease.  It appears that smoking decreases the effectiveness of Tarceva, however, perhaps by decreasing blood levels of the drug.

5. Quitting Lowers Complications from Radiation Therapy

We're not certain if radiation therapy is more effective for people with lung cancer who quit - though people who receive radiation therapy for head and neck cancers fare better if they quit. We do know, however, that continued smoking increases the side effects of radiation therapy.  For example, radiation pneumonitis, and inflammation of the lungs which can occur with radiation therapy for lung cancer is more common for those who smoke.

6. Quitting lowers the risk of death from other causes

Many people with lung cancer die from unrelated causes, such as heart disease. Several of these “other diseases” are also caused by smoking.

How to Quit Smoking

It seems pretty clear that quitting smoking improves life for people with lung cancer, no matter the stage of their disease.  Thankfully there are many resources available to help people kick the habit. Check out these practical tools to help you quit smoking to help get you started today.


Amato, D. et al. Tobacco Cessation May Improve Lung Cancer Patient Survival. Journal of Thoracic Oncology. 2015. 10(7):1014-9.

Florou, A. et al. Clinical Significance of Smoking Cessation in Patients With Cancer: A 30-Year Review. Respiratory Cancer. 2014 Sep 2. (Epub ahead of print).

Nakamura, H. et al. Smoking Affects Prognosis after Lung Cancer Surgery. Surgery Today. 2008. 38(3):227-231.

Parsons, A. et al. Influence of smoking cessation after diagnosis of early-stage lung cancer on prognosis: systematic review of observational studies with meta-analysis. British Medical Journal BMJ2010:340:b5569. Published online 21 January 2010.

Rades, D. et al. Effect of Smoking During Radiotherapy, Respiratory Insufficiency, and Hemoglobin Levels on Outcome in Patients Irradiated for Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer. International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology and Physics. 2008. Feb 5(Epub ahead of time.)

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