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Alcohol and smoking cessation for cancer survivors

Maher Karam-Hage, MD
Jennifer Minnix, PhD
Paul M Cinciripini, PhD
Section Editor
Patricia A Ganz, MD
Deputy Editor
Sadhna R Vora, MD


The number of living cancer survivors is expected to continue to rise in subsequent years, at least within the United States (US) [1]. Compared with population growth, these increases have been attributed mostly to improved diagnostic modalities resulting in early detection of cancer and to the development of more effective and less toxic treatments. This increase in survival rates highlights the importance of caring for cancer survivors.

While smoking rates have continuously decreased over several decades, the overall smoking prevalence in the US had remained nearly constant for several years with some palpable decline in the past few years to 15.1 percent [2]. This amounts to 36 million Americans who smoke despite the widespread knowledge that smoking and tobacco use cause cancer as well as cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, and several other deadly diseases [3].

Unlike tobacco, the carcinogenic effects of alcohol have been scientifically established only within the last two decades. Though many alcohol users are informed about organ damage caused by alcohol and the dangers and the legal and social consequences of being intoxicated, far fewer recognize the significant cancer risk of heavy alcohol use [4].

There are limited data that speak to the benefits of stopping smoking and alcohol use that are specific to cancer survivors. However, it stands to reason that cancer survivors may attain at least similar health benefits with the adoption of healthy lifestyles, including moderate alcohol consumption and smoking cessation. This review discusses the data regarding these topics as they relate to cancer survivors who have completed cancer-directed treatment and are in remission. Further discussion on alcohol and tobacco is covered elsewhere. (See "Cigarette smoking and other possible risk factors for lung cancer" and "Benefits and risks of smoking cessation" and "Cancer prevention", section on 'Tobacco use' and "Overview of the risks and benefits of alcohol consumption".)


Tobacco use — Data suggest that tobacco use continues to be an issue for cancer survivors, especially among younger adults. In one survey, almost 20 percent of cancer survivors reported being current smokers, with a high rate of 43 percent of cancer survivors younger than 40 years reporting current smoking [5].

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Aug 21, 2017.
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