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Nearly a third of smokers quit after cancer diagnosis

Many smokers quit after cancer diagnosis

Cancer smokers are more likely than smokers without cancer to quit after two years, with nearly a third dropping the habit after their diagnosis.


Researchers from the American Cancer Society and the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University analyzed data from the Cancer Prevention Study-II Nutrition Cohort. Participants reported their smoking status at enrollment in the study in 1992 to 1993 and approximately biennially through 2009. The researchers compared the quit rates of smokers diagnosed with cancer during 2- and 4-year intervals with those of smokers not diagnosed with cancer (12,182 and 12,538 smokers at the 2- and 4-year intervals, respectively). Cancers that were likely to cause physical limitations or symptoms that could influence smoking were excluded from the study results.

The study found that the 2-year quit rate was higher among the smokers who were diagnosed with cancer than among smokers who were not diagnosed with cancer. The researchers found a similar difference at the 4-year interval. At the 2-year interval, 31.3 percent of smokers who were diagnosed with cancer had quit smoking, compared with 19.5 percent of smokers who did not receive a cancer diagnosis.

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At the 4-year interval, 43 percent of smokers with cancer had quit, compared with 33.8 percent of smokers without cancer. The researchers concluded that a cancer diagnosis "presents a teachable moment that can be capitalized on to promote cessation."

Study lead author J. Lee Westmaas, director of Tobacco Control Research at the American Cancer Society's Behavioral Research Center, said the study was the first to his and his colleagues' knowledge that showed that a cancer diagnosis could lead to higher quit rates for smokers. He also said that while oncologists ask newly diagnosed lung cancer patients about quitting smoking, follow up and cessation assistance is low.

The researchers launched the study because few previous studies suggested that a cancer diagnosis might serve as a call-to-action to quit smoking, but they focused on a particular cancer or used a smaller sample.
The study did not ask why the smokers eventually quit.

A 2013 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that quitting smoking, even at the age of 64, can add four years to a person's lifespan. Quitting before the age of 34 increased life expectancy by a decade.