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Cancer Health Center

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1 in 10 Cancer Survivors Still Smokes Years Later

Experts say finding shows how hard it is to quit, and that doctors need to make better effort to help

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Amy Norton

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 6, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Almost 10 percent of people who survive cancer are still smoking a decade later, a new study from the American Cancer Society shows.

Experts said the findings, reported online Aug. 6 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, show that some cancer survivors need ongoing help with kicking the smoking habit.

The study also underscores how tough it can be to quit tobacco, said Dr. Norman Edelman, senior medical advisor to the American Lung Association.

"Am I surprised by the findings? No," said Edelman, who was not involved in the study. "It's consistent with what I've seen in clinical practice. With cancer survivors, one of the problems we have is convincing them there's a point [to quitting]."

Yet it's clear there is a point, Edelman said, since kicking the habit may lower the odds of not only a cancer recurrence, but also such killers as emphysema and heart disease.

"Smoking can kill you in a lot of ways," Edelman said.

The new findings are based on nearly 3,000 U.S. adults taking part in a long-term study of cancer survivors.

"We really haven't known what happens [to smoking habits] years after a person's cancer diagnosis," said lead researcher Lee Westmaas, director of tobacco control research at the cancer society.

His team found that over 9 percent of cancer survivors were smoking almost a decade after their diagnosis.

"And they were smoking pretty heavily," Westmaas said. Current smokers averaged 15 cigarettes a day, though 40 percent smoked more than that.

What's more, people who had survived lung or bladder cancers -- two cancers closely linked to tobacco -- had the highest rates of current smoking (at 15 percent and 17 percent, respectively).

Edelman was not surprised that lung cancer survivors were among the most likely to still be smoking. "These are the hard-core smokers," he said. "Smoking cessation is not easy for them. It takes a lot of patience. Rarely do people quit on the first try."

Westmaas said it's not clear whether some of the persistent smokers had tried to quit but were unsuccessful. The "good news," he added, is that of study participants who were smoking at the time of their diagnosis, one-third did manage to quit.

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