Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show smoking rates in the general population are declining. Nearly a quarter of adults (24.7%) smoked in 1997, compared to just 16.8% in 2014. Men are slightly more likely than women to smoke—18.9% compared to 14.8%. Smoking is most prevalent (19.1%) among young adults ages 18-44.
Cancer Survivors More Likely to Smoke
To measure smoking rates among cancer survivors, researchers interviewed 1,019 cancer survivors who participated in the 2012-2014 National Health Interview Surveys. Participants were diagnosed with cancer between ages 15 and 39, and had survived at least five years following the diagnosis. Cancer survivors were then compared to a similar group of young adults who had never been diagnosed with cancer.
Twenty-two percent of participants who had never been diagnosed with cancer smoked, compared to 33% of cancer survivors. Cancer survivors who smoked were also more likely to report poor health and to experience chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and asthma.
Why Some Cancer Survivors Smoke
The study did not directly assess why cancer survivors smoked at higher rates, but it did find certain characteristics increased the likelihood of smoking. More than half of uninsured cancer survivors smoked, compared to just 22% who had private insurance. Young cancer survivors were also more likely to smoke than older survivors.
Previous research suggests stress may increase smoking. For example, a 2012 study published in Human Psychopharmacology found stress decreased self-control and increased impulsivity, thereby increasing the risk of smoking.
The study’s authors say a conversation with a health provider about smoking cessation may be the first step toward quitting. Yet nearly 40% of cancer survivors who smoked reported no conversations with health care providers about the issue in the previous year.
A Cancer Diagnosis May Not Stop Smoking
Although smoking is strongly correlated with cancer, it is common even for current cancer patients to continue smoking. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Oncology Practice surveyed a group of recently diagnosed cancer patients. Twenty percent reported being smokers at the time of diagnosis. Just 44% quit after being diagnosed, and 62% reported having conversations with health care providers about smoking cessation during cancer treatment.
- Ansell, E. B., Gu, P., Tuit, K., & Sinha, R. (2012). Effects of cumulative stress and impulsivity on smoking status. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental, 27(2), 200-208. doi:10.1002/hup.1269
- Burke, L., Miller, L., Saad, A., & Abraham, J. (2009). Smoking behaviors among cancer survivors: An observational clinical study. Journal of Oncology Practice, 5(1), 6-9. doi:10.1200/jop.0912001
- Early release of selected estimates based on data from the National Health Interview Survey, 2014 [PDF]. (2015, June). Atlanta: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Young cancer survivors are more likely to smoke than people without cancer history. (2016, June 10). Retrieved from http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-06/uotm-ycs061016.php
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