Health & Wellness

Under Mesothelioma Treatment? Consider Quitting Smoking

Mar 09, 2018
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Written By: Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RDN,
March 9, 2018
Quit smoking

If you smoke and are facing mesothelioma cancer treatment, giving up cigarettes may be the last thing on your mind.

Dealing with complicated mesothelioma treatments is challenging, and quitting smoking is stressful, too.

It’s more likely you are wondering how you’ll get through mesothelioma treatment than planning to quit tobacco.

Your mesothelioma health care team may offer help with smoking cessation. Given the worries that accompany a mesothelioma diagnosis, you may be tempted to tell them you’re not interested.

But there may be good reasons to reconsider breaking the smoking habit.

The effects of smoking on cancer treatment and how to help patients quit cigarettes were hot topics among cancer experts at the 2018 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Cancer Survivorship Symposium recently held in Orlando, Florida.

Does Smoking Cause Mesothelioma?

While smoking is a leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, it is not a direct contributor to a person’s risk of developing mesothelioma. Exposure to asbestos is the leading cause of mesothelioma.

However, for people who have been exposed to asbestos, smoking can worsen lung damage from asbestos.

Asbestos and the thousands of chemicals found in tobacco smoke cause inflammation in the lungs. The combination of all these chemicals and the cancer-causing mineral causes more damage to the lungs than either smoke or asbestos alone.

Smoking May Make Treating Mesothelioma More Difficult

Radiation oncologist Dr. Graham Warren of the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina shared decades’ worth of smoking and cancer research with symposium attendees.

He specifically talked about the connection between smoking after a cancer diagnosis and overall risk of death, cancer-specific risk of death, risk of developing another type of cancer, risk of cancer recurrence, toxicity during treatment and response to treatment.

Warren discussed the results of The Health Consequences of Smoking — 50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2014.

The report indicates that quitting smoking, even after diagnosis, improves the prognosis of cancer patients. Giving up tobacco likely improves response to cancer treatment as well.

In his own laboratory, Dr. Warren has studied how cigarette smoking can decrease the effectiveness of radiation and chemotherapy against cancer cells.

Putting all of this information together, he estimated a person who continues to smoke after a cancer diagnosis may have a 60 to 70 percent higher likelihood of death after diagnosis compared with a patient who gives up cigarettes.

Getting Help to Quit Smoking

If you’ve been smoking for decades, you may have tried giving up cigarettes in the past. Even if you didn’t succeed, you learned something about what works and doesn’t work to help you quit smoking.

Every attempt to quit teaches you what you can do to make yourself succeed the next time. There is more good news: Formal programs to help people give up cigarettes work.

Warren noted for many tobacco cessation programs, two in three participants will quit or reduce use of cigarettes.

Communicate with your doctor about your interest in quitting smoking.

  • Ask your doctor to add quitting cigarettes to your mesothelioma survivorship care plan
  • Know your preferred method of help, which could include in-person health coaching, an online support group or telephone counseling
  • Ask for medications to improve odds of success
  • Use nicotine replacement products, such as gum or patches, to manage cravings

You can also ask your loved ones and friends to support your efforts to quit and use free resources to help yourself quit.

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