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Smoking During Breast Cancer Radiation Therapy Increases Risk of Lung Cancer

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A study reinforces the results of earlier research: Besides causing many diseases and increasing breast cancer risk, smoking can increase complications from radiation therapy.

In this study, women who smoked and received radiation to treat breast cancer had a much higher risk of developing lung cancer compared to women who didn't smoke and received radiation. Women who didn't smoke and had radiation to treat breast cancer were no more likely to develop lung cancer than women who didn't have radiation.

Smoking by itself increases lung cancer risk. This study found that smokers who didn't get radiation therapy were 6 times more likely than average to develop lung cancer.

This research looked at women who received breast cancer radiation therapy between 1965 and 1989. Because of improvements in the way radiation therapy is delivered, it's likely that the increase in lung cancer risk after radiation is less today than what's reported in the study. Advances in technology make it much less likely that lung and other tissues will be exposed to radiation during breast cancer treatment. Computers are used to plan radiation treatment that is extremely precise. The computer aims just the right amount of radiation only at tissue that needs to be treated. Other new technology gives radiation oncologists a wider and safer choice of radiation energy sources. Together, these two advances help the radiation oncologist avoid exposing the lungs to radiation intended only for the breast area.

If you smoke and have been diagnosed with breast cancer, please consider the following:

  • Smoking increases your risk for future breast cancer.
  • Smoking can cause non-cancerous lung disease and cardiovascular disease.
  • Smoking can cause lung cancer.
  • If you've had or will receive radiation therapy, the combination of smoking and radiation therapy dramatically increases your lung cancer risk.
  • It's never too late to stop smoking. If you're having radiation therapy, it's even more important to try to quit.
  • If you've had radiation therapy and smoke, think about talking to your doctor about developing a screening plan for lung cancer. One screening technique is a spiral CAT scan.

It can be very hard to stop smoking. But quitting is something you can control that can make a big difference in your health and well-being, now and in the future. But sometimes even knowing about all of the dangers isn't always enough to make you quit. Fortunately, if you're serious about trying, you have lots of help:

  • The American Lung Association offers a free online smoking cessation program. Local chapters of the American Cancer Society offer their Fresh Start program to help people quit smoking. You can also call their "quitline," at 1-800-ACS-2345, to get support and free advice on how to stop smoking from trained counselors.
  • Medications to help you quit can be taken as a pill, chewed as gum, or worn as a patch on the skin.
  • Acupuncture and meditation can also help.

Visit the Lower Your Risk section to learn more about how you can kick the smoking habit for good.

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