Smoking causes a number of diseases and is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in younger, premenopausal women. Research also has shown that there may be a link between very heavy second-hand smoke exposure and breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women.
Smoking also can increase complications from breast cancer treatment, including:
- damage to the lungs from radiation therapy
- difficulty healing after surgery and breast reconstruction
- higher risk of blood clots when taking hormonal therapy medicines
Now, a study has found that women who were diagnosed with breast cancer and then quit smoking after diagnosis had a 33% lower risk of dying from breast cancer compared to women who continued to smoke.
The study was published online on Jan. 25, 2016 by the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Read the abstract of “Cigarette Smoking Before and After Breast Cancer Diagnosis: Mortality From Breast Cancer and Smoking-Related Diseases.”
The study included 20,691 women from Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts ages 20 to 79 who were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1988 and 2008. About half the women were followed for more than 12 years and half were followed for less than 12 years. There was no information on the hormone-receptor status of the breast cancers.
The researchers sent the women a questionnaire asking questions about smoking, including:
- if they had smoked 100 cigarettes in their lifetime
- how old they were when they started smoking
- the average number of cigarettes they smoked per day
During the follow-up period, 6,778 women died, including 2,894 women who died from breast cancer.
The researchers took into account other risk factors that could affect survival, including how much alcohol the women drank and their body mass index.
After controlling for those other risk factors, the researchers found that:
- Women who were active smokers a year before they were diagnosed with breast cancer were 25% more likely to die of breast cancer or cardiovascular disease than women who had never smoked.
- The 10% of women who continued to smoke after being diagnosed were 72% more likely to die from breast cancer than women who never smoked.
- Women who quit smoking after being diagnosed were 33% less likely to die from breast cancer than women who continued to smoke after diagnosis.
"Our study shows the consequences facing both active and former smokers with a history of breast cancer," said Michael Passarelli, Ph.D., a cancer epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine and lead author of the study. "About one in ten breast cancer survivors smoke after their diagnosis. For them, these results should provide additional motivation to quit."
If you don't smoke, don't start. If you do smoke, use every resource you can find to help you quit. As this study shows, it’s never too late to get benefits from quitting smoking. Still, knowing about all of the problems associated with smoking isn't always enough to make you quit. Smoking is a habit that's very hard to break. Fortunately, if you're serious about trying, you have lots of help:
- The American Lung Association offers a free online smoking cessation program. The American Cancer Society also has a quit smoking program. You can also call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345 to get support and free advice on how to stop smoking from trained counselors.
- Medicines to help you quit can be taken as a pill, chewed as gum, or worn as a patch on the skin. Ask your doctor if one of these might be right for you.
- Acupuncture and meditation may help ease cigarette cravings.
- It's easier if you have a friend who's also quitting or who can cheer you on when you're feeling you can't make it on your own.
- The Breastcancer.org Discussion Board has a thread titled Stop Smoking Support Thread, where you can meet others to give and receive support to quit smoking.