Close-up of cigarette while reading the newspaper Close-up of cigarette while reading the newspaper

Young Cancer Survivors May Be More Likely to Smoke

Close-up of cigarette while reading the newspaperCancer survivors who were diagnosed and treated in adolescence and young adulthood are more likely to smoke, according to a study published in Cancer.

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.


  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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.
  4. Young cancer survivors are more likely to smoke than people without cancer history. (2016, June 10). Retrieved from

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  • Gabby

    June 14th, 2016 at 2:19 PM

    Even after my good friend was diagnosed with lung cancer and she found out that it was terminal, she never stopped smoking.
    I am thinking that her mindset by that point was that she was not going to beat this so until she died she was going to continue doing the one thing in life that she still enjoyed.

  • Susan O

    June 16th, 2016 at 9:44 AM

    How disheartening to think that these are people who have already fought a battle of a lifetime and yet they are setting themselves up to do it all over again?
    Makes no sense to me

  • krista

    June 16th, 2016 at 1:48 PM

    what is this… death wish? tempting fate? how could you take this new chance that you have been given and then choose to throw it away on this habit which can be so detrimental and harmful? i for one fail to see how this is ever going to be a good choice for you. i think that if i had been cured of cancer once then i would want to lead the healthiest lifestyle ever so that i would hopefully never have to go through it again.

  • Keith W

    June 18th, 2016 at 9:10 AM

    I guess that I don’t get that need to continue to punish my body this way because I have not had cancer nor have I ever been a smoker.
    I would think that once you have been through something like this and made it through it alive you would then want to do what you could to maintain your health.
    But maybe this just becomes a sort of coping mechanism for someone who has been this close to death and it soothed them through it so the though of giving that up too could be difficult.

  • virginia

    June 20th, 2016 at 11:42 AM

    It is a feeling of invincibility.

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