In the Cancer Game Quitters Are Winners

Lung cancer patients in later stages of the disease live longer if they are nonsmokers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Why bother quitting smoking if you already have lung cancer? A recent report claims that patients can benefit from stopping even in the later stages of the disease.

Prior research has found that lung cancer patients who continue to smoke have lower survival rates than nonsmokers.

They may also be at greater risk of getting additional tumors and experiencing complications from radiation therapy.

An extensive new study suggests patients under the age of 55 with advanced lung cancer will live longer if they have quit smoking more than a year before their diagnosis.

"Consider quitting smoking - now."

Amy Ferketich, PhD, associate professor in the Division of Epidemiology at The Ohio State University College of Public Health in Columbus, and her fellow scientists analyzed data on 4,200 patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Patients were from eight cancer centers around the country.

Investigators evaluated survival rates among current smokers, former smokers and never smokers.

Compared to smokers and former smokers, those who never smoked were much more likely to survive cancer in stages 1, 2 or 3. For smokers in the first two stages of cancer, for example, 72 percent lived at least two years, while 93 percent of never-smokers had that survival rate.

For those who quit a year or more ago, 76 percent lived at least two years.

Researchers noted former smokers under the age of 55 with late stage 4 cancer who had quit at least 12 months before diagnosis lived longer compared with those who were still lighting up.

Of stage 4 smokers, only 15 percent were still alive after two years. Among never-smokers with stage 4 cancer, 40 percent lived two years, and 20 percent of those who quit after diagnosis survived that long.

“The results show that even after you are diagnosed with cancer, quitting is a good thing,” said Dr. Ferketich.

Authors wrote that after age 85, smoking status did not have a significant impact on overall survival. “As people got older, the effects of being a former smoker or never-smoker disappear,” said Dr. Ferketich.

For next steps, Dr. Ferketich would like to see how lung cancer patients respond to programs that can help them stop smoking.

“When you deliver smoking cessation programs to cancer patients, are they going to quit?” said Dr. Ferketich. “There’s also evidence to suggest patients who do not smoke respond better to chemotherapy. Will smoking cessation improve their response to chemotherapy and ultimately their survival? Let’s focus now on how to get people to quit smoking.”

This study was published online in September in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 25, 2012
Last Updated:
October 29, 2012