I think the vast majority of people are aware of the link between smoking and lung cancer (in the UK, more than eight in ten cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking) but patients are not always aware of just how many other cancers can be caused by smoking. In total, smoking is known to cause 16 different cancers, including bowel, kidney, cervical and head and neck cancers.
Of course, it’s better to never start smoking but if you do smoke quitting significantly reduces your risk of cancer. Within five years of quitting, the risk of cervical cancer drops to the same as a non-smoker and you’re half as likely to get mouth, throat or bladder cancer than if you were still smoking.
For those who have been diagnosed with cancer, it may feel like quitting smoking is pointless, but in fact, the opposite is true – quitting smoking can help patients get through treatment with fewer complications and for some cancers quitting has also been shown to increase survival rates.
Patients who smoke and undergo surgery can take longer to recover due to the lower levels of oxygen within the blood. Smoking also makes chemotherapy less effective and increases the risk of nausea and vomiting.
It’s always tough to quit smoking – tobacco is a strong addiction. And stopping smoking during a cancer journey can be particularly hard. But with the right support, many of the patients I work with manage to successfully quit smoking.
Commonly patients have several concerns alongside their cancer diagnosis. For example, they may have financial concerns or have little social support. And it is important to remember that people smoke for many reasons, a key one of which is dealing with stress.
Many of the patients I talk to associate the smoking habit with relaxation, as they are usually sitting down, relaxing, and taking time out from their day. I need to understand these reasons and empathise with how hard it is to make lifestyle changes so that I can identify all the support measures that are needed to help our patients through this process and ensure that everything possible is in place for them.
At The Christie, we offer a holistic package including confidential advice, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), coping strategies for managing cravings, motivational interviewing (a patient-centred style of counselling to support behaviour change), acupuncture and relaxation techniques. We can also give advice on using e-cigarettes and information about where to get help and support in patients’ local area.
I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful it is to see patients smoke-free, improving their treatment outcomes and enjoying other ways of spending their money.
And it’s not just cancer patients who I work with. We support anyone who is attending The Christie, whether they are a patient, a patient’s carer or a member of hospital staff.
I recently worked with a carer (let’s call him Greg) who wanted to support his wife’s smoking cessation by also stopping smoking himself. Greg explained that he used to ride his motorbike, but was unable to use it at the moment due to it being broken. He decided to save the money he would have spent on smoking to fix his motorbike – whilst supporting his wife. He and his wife are both now smoke-free and he got his bike fixed with the money that he saved.
If you smoke, quitting is the biggest thing you can do to reduce your cancer risk. I’d advise anyone thinking of quitting to seek specialist support as you’re twice as likely to succeed with the right advice and stop smoking tools. If you’re at The Christie, you can ask for a referral to our smoking and alcohol cessation service, otherwise, you can contact the Greater Manchester Stop Smoking Helpline on 0300 123 1044 or visit the GM Health Hub to find support near you.