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Sudden smoking cessation could be symptom for lung cancer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Smoking cessation

A new investigation by researchers suggests spontaneous smoking cessation could be a symptom of lung cancer. In an interview of 115 patients from the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center who were diagnosed with the disease, researchers found 48 percent stopped smoking with no effort before being diagnosed and prior to experiencing symptoms.


Spontaneous smoking cessation before lung cancer diagnosis appears to be common.

The researchers say it is widely known that many patients stop smoking spontaneously. In the study, patients stopped an average of 2.7 years before being diagnosed with the disease.

Dr. Barbara Campling, professor in the Department of Medical Oncology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia says, "This observation is often dismissed, by saying that these patients must have quit because of symptoms of their cancer. However, we found that the majority of lung cancer patients who stopped smoking before diagnosis quit before the onset of symptoms. Furthermore, they often quit with no difficulty, despite multiple previous unsuccessful quit attempts. This has led us to speculate that, in some cases, spontaneous smoking cessation may be an early symptom of lung cancer."

The findings, published in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology (JTO), the official monthly journal of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC), suggests there is something that may be secreted by lung tumors that interferes with nicotine addiction, making it easier for patients to stop smoking, despite multiple unsuccessful past attempts.

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In the study, only 11 percent of the patients who stopped smoking experienced symptoms by the time they quit smoking. The scientists note nicotine dependency was high among the patients, yet 31 percent reported they had no trouble stopping.

As a comparison, the scientists interviewed patients with prostate cancer and heart attack, finding the average time for quitting smoking was 24.3 years for prostate cancer and 10 years for a heart attack.

The authors concluded, "These results challenge the notion that patients with lung cancer usually quit smoking because of disease symptoms. The hypothesis that spontaneous smoking cessation may be a presenting symptom of lung cancer warrants further investigation."

The researchers suggest spontaneous smoking cessation could be a symptom of lung cancer, based on the observation that 48 percent of patients interviewed quit with no difficulty before being diagnosed with the disease and before symptoms appeared. Dr. Campling warns the results should not be misinterpreted, and that smokers are "strongly encouraged" to stop.

"Spontaneous Smoking Cessation Before Lung Cancer Diagnosis"
Campling, Barbara G.; Collins, Bradley N.; Algazy, Kenneth M.; Schnoll, Robert A.; Lam, Miu
Journal of Thoracic Oncology. 6(3):517-524, March 2011.
doi: 10.1097/JTO.0b013e318208c7da

Updated 11/16/2017