Smoking May Worsen Cancer Pain

Smokers Report More Cancer Pain, Distress Than Nonsmokers

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on December 27, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 28, 2010 -- Smoking may make an already painful disease worse.

A new study shows that smokers who continue to light up after being diagnosed with cancer may experience more pain and more pain-related disruption in their daily lives, compared to nonsmokers.

Smoking is already known to greatly contribute to a person’s risk of developing cancer, but researchers say this study suggests that smoking may also contribute to pain in people with various types of cancer.

Smoking Contributes to Cancer Pain

In the study, researchers compared smoking status and pain levels of 224 cancer patients about to start chemotherapy. The participants answered questions about their pain severity, pain-related distress, and pain-related interference in their daily lives.

For example, they rated their perceived severity of bodily pain on a scale from one to six and the degree to which the cancer pain interfered with daily activities.

The results showed that current smokers reported higher levels of pain than people who had never smoked. Smokers also appeared to be more bothered by their cancer pain.

“Patients who continued to smoke despite their cancer diagnoses reported greater interference from pain than either former smokers or never smokers,” researcher Joseph W. Ditre, PhD, of the department of psychology at Texas A&M University and colleagues write in the journal Pain.

In addition, researchers found an inverse relationship between cancer pain and the number of years since quitting smoking among former smokers. Cancer pain decreased the longer it had been since they stopped smoking.

Researchers say the findings suggest that quitting smoking may reduce cancer pain over time.

"Although more research is needed to understand the mechanisms that relate nicotine to pain, physicians should aggressively promote smoking cessation among cancer patients,” Lori A. Bastian of Duke University writes in an editorial that accompanies the study. “Preliminary findings suggest that smoking cessation will improve the overall treatment response and quality of life."

Show Sources


Ditre, J. Bastian, L. Pain, January 2011; vol 152: pp 60-65, 10-11.

News release, Elsevier Health Sciences Journals.

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