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Smoking may worsen cancer pain

Doctors should do more to encourage cancer patients to quit smoking

Louise Prime

Thursday, 23 December 2010

People with cancer who carry on smoking after being diagnosed with cancer report a higher level of pain than those who have quit or never smoked, research suggests. The authors, writing in next January’s Pain, found that the association was valid for many types of cancer and at different stages.

Researchers in Texas asked 224 people with different types and stages of cancer to complete a questionnaire asking about pain severity, pain-related distress and pain-related interference with their daily routine. Participants also provided demographic information.

Current smokers reported a higher level of pain than people who had never smoked. Smokers also experienced greater interference from pain in their daily routine than either never-smokers or former smokers. The longer it was since former smokers had quit, the less severe pain they reported.

These associations held for a wide range of types of cancer, and at all stages I-IV.
“Clinicians must do more to assist cancer patients to quit smoking after their diagnosis,” said author Lori Bastian from Durham VA Medical Center and Duke University, in an accompanying commentary.

Dr Bastian pointed out the complexities inherent in studies of relationships between pain, cancer diagnoses, and nicotine addiction, but said: “The major strength of this study is the diverse types of cancer and stage of disease.”

She concluded: “Although more research is needed to understand the mechanisms that relate nicotine to pain, physicians should aggressively promote smoking cessation among cancer patients. Preliminary findings suggest that smoking cessation will improve the overall treatment response and quality of life.”

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