In collaboration with Keck School of Medicine

Can Quitting Smoking After Cancer Diagnoses Help You Avoid Severe Pain?


Millions of people smoke and some are diagnosed with cancer each year. Regardless of the type of cancer they are diagnosed with, researchers wondered if quitting smoking following the diagnoses would help lead to the person experiencing less severe pain. They conducted a cohort study to answer this question, and the results may be surprising.

They wanted to determine if continuing to smoke or quitting smoking after receiving a cancer diagnosis would impact severe pain. They judged the severity based on opioid usage that people experienced following their cancer diagnoses. To find enough subjects to compare, they used a Japanese insurance claims database. The study results were published in the August 2022 issue of PLOS ONE [1].

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The number of subjects that met the criteria and were selected to be used in the study was 591. They were people who had been diagnosed with cancer and had also had health checkup data at the end of the year following their diagnoses. The types of cancer the people had and their age ranges were not reported.

They compared the data among those who had been diagnosed with cancer, separating those who continued to smoke, those who had never smoked, and those who quit smoking once they received the cancer diagnosis. They also compared opioid usage following cancer diagnoses.

They found that those who continued to smoke after their cancer diagnosis experienced significantly more pain, receiving strong opioids. They report that 37% of them received strong opioids, compared to 24% of those who had quit following diagnoses and only 20% of those who had never smoked.

The researchers concluded that those who quit smoking after a cancer diagnosis have a lower risk of experiencing severe cancer pain. Quitting smoking can also help reduce opioid usage, which will help reduce the risks associated with them.

Encouraging people to quit smoking after a cancer diagnosis may help to reduce the amount of pain they experience. Those who smoke become addicted to nicotine, making quitting difficult. To be successful at quitting, some people may need to work with a smoking cessation counselor, get a coach, or speak with a doctor about options that may help with managing withdrawal symptoms, such as gum, patches, and nasal sprays.

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  1. PLOS ONE. Smoking cessation after cancer diagnosis reduces the risk of severe cancer pain. August 2022.

This article was originally published on Confronting Chronic Pain by Dr. Steven Richeimer, Director Pain Medicine Master and Certificate.

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