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Smoking and Ovarian Cancer: How Can Quitting Help?

Posted on January 03, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Howard Goodman, M.D.
Article written by
Alicia Adams

If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and you currently smoke, your health care professional might have talked with you about quitting smoking. Smoking may seem like a way to cope with the stress of your situation, but it can interfere with a person’s cancer treatment and recovery. When you stop smoking, you embrace a greater chance of a successful cancer treatment.

Members of MyOvarianCancerTeam have written about their experiences with quitting smoking. One member wrote, “I quit smoking after 45 years. I quit cold turkey because if you are scared enough, it will give you the incentive to quit. So far, the cancer has not come back yet.”

Another member reported, “After my diagnosis, I quit smoking last year. I take one day at a time. I try to exercise every day — either go to the gym or take an hour walk instead of smoking.”

Smoking tobacco causes your body to produce an inflammatory response. In other words, your body activates your immune system. Your immune system then releases chemicals to combat the foreign matter (tobacco) that has been introduced.

Tobacco smoke is a mixture of chemicals and tiny particles, including metals. (Metals in contaminated soil are absorbed by plants, including tobacco plants.) When these substances enter your body through tobacco smoke, they can injure cells and damage your cellular DNA. (DNA is a cell’s “instruction manual.” It tells the cell its job and how to do it.) If a cell’s DNA is damaged, it is harder for that cell to repair itself. Moreoever, the cell isn’t as readily able to defend your body from cancer. The more DNA becomes damaged throughout a person’s body, the more cell mutations can occur and thus cancer can develop.

How Smoking Affects Your Risk of Ovarian Cancer

A scientific literature review and meta-analysis in 2006 reported that smoking doubles the chance a woman will develop a specific subtype of ovarian cancer: mucinous ovarian cancer. A 2003 study of nearly 90,000 people concluded that smoking was associated with another subtype of ovarian cancer, epithelial ovarian cancer.

Benefits of Quitting Smoking

When you stop smoking, it can give you a better outlook now, during treatment, and after treatment. Some of the benefits include having a longer life, easier breathing, and more energy.

And quitting can also make a positive impact on your cancer treatments in several ways.

Quitting May Help Boost Your Treatment’s Effectiveness

Research has not specifically linked smoking to a reduction in treatment effectiveness for ovarian cancer. However, smoking has been shown to worsen treatment response for other types of cancer. A 2014 study of published scientific papers indicated that smoking can alter the way cancer-fighting drugs work in the bodies of people with lung cancer. It concluded that some cancer drugs were less effective in people who smoked. (It also noted people who smoke often require a higher dosage of certain cancer medications.)

Research conducted among people with prostate cancer has shown that smoking can interfere with the effectiveness of radiation therapy. It is not yet clear whether the same results would happen for people with ovarian cancer.

People who smoke are also at greater risk of developing severe complications from COVID-19. This could interfere with the course of your cancer treatment. Avoiding smoking during the COVID-19 pandemic is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Quitting Helps Reduce Treatment Side Effects You Might Experience

Cancer treatments like chemotherapy, drugs, surgery, or radiation can produce side effects such as nausea, skin issues, fatigue, loss of taste, and pain. Research published in 2011 from the University of Rochester Cancer Center has shown that if a person smokes while they are going through cancer treatment, their side effects can intensify and last longer. During a six-month follow-up after treatment, the study reported that people who smoked continued to have ongoing issues with side effects. It also noted people who quit smoking before undergoing treatment (and those who had never smoked) reported fewer side effects. Any side effects those who quit did experience lasted a shorter amount of time.

Quitting Reduces the Likelihood of Your Cancer Returning

Untreated cancer, by nature, spreads, and it can spread throughout your body. However, when you stop smoking, you reduce the chance that cancer will reoccur in your body — anywhere in your body.

Smoking increases your risk for many types of cancer other than ovarian cancer, including:

  • Stomach cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Bladder cancer

Cutting Down Rather Than Quitting

Any amount of smoking introduces poisonous compounds and particles into your body. That means there isn’t a significant health benefit if you cut the number of cigarettes you smoke versus if you quit altogether. (On the other hand, reducing how much you smoke could be one way of getting to your goal of giving it up entirely.)

The Risk of E-Cigarettes

E-cigarettes are often thought of as a safer alternative to traditional smoking. But they, too, contain nicotine. And it’s been shown that the nicotine in e-cigarette smoke also induces an inflammatory response and DNA damage. The American Cancer Society reports that e-cigarettes can also have negative effects on your heart and lungs. Further research is needed to fully understand the health effects of e-cigarettes.

Talking With Your Doctor About Quitting Smoking

People who have a cancer diagnosis and continue to smoke are often reluctant to talk with their health care team (including their oncologists) about their habit. There are many reasons for this.

Some experience:

  • A fear of judgment
  • Concern their health care team might not support them as much during their treatment process if their habit is known
  • A feeling of defeat, thinking — wrongly — when they’ve already been diagnosed with cancer, it is pointless to quit smoking
  • Doubt that they can quit or stay stopped

However, giving up smoking — especially with a cancer diagnosis — can improve your health and give you better odds in defeating the disease.

When you talk to your doctor about your smoking habit, they will ask you several questions. Your answers about your smoking history, habits, exposure to secondhand smoke, and more will help them plan the best way for you to quit. It is important that you are honest with your doctor. Not only tell them about your smoking, but also share your worries about quitting. Your doctor will aim to help you in the best way possible, and addressing all of your concerns ensures that.

Talk With Others Who Understand

On MyOvarianCancerTeam, the social network for people with ovarian cancer and their loved ones, more than 3,200 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with ovarian cancer.

Are you living with ovarian cancer and searching for information on whether you should quit smoking? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

References
  1. Psychological Stress and Cancer — National Cancer Institute
  2. Stopping Tobacco Use After a Cancer Diagnosis — Cancer.Net
  3. Smoking and Inflammation — PLoS Medicine
  4. Toxic Metal Concentrations in Cigarettes Obtained From U.S. Smokers in 2009: Results From the International Tobacco Control (ITC) United States Survey Cohort — International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
  5. Smoking, Immunity, and DNA Damage — Translational Lung Cancer Research
  6. Mutational Signatures Associated With Tobacco Smoking in Human Cancer — Science (New York, N.Y.)
  7. Does Smoking Increase Risk of Ovarian Cancer? A Systematic Review — Gynecologic Oncology
  8. Cigarette Smoking and the Risk of Invasive Epithelial Ovarian Cancer in a Prospective Cohort Study — European Journal of Cancer
  9. Postdiagnosis Smoking Cessation and Reduced Risk for Lung Cancer Progression and Mortality — Annals of Internal Medicine
  10. Effects of Cigarette Smoking on Metabolism and Systemic Therapy for Lung Cancer — Journal of Thoracic Oncology
  11. Cigarette Smoking During External Beam Radiation Therapy for Prostate Cancer Is Associated With an Increased Risk of Prostate Cancer-Specific Mortality and Treatment-Related Toxicity — BJU International
  12. The Effect of Cigarette Smoking on Cancer Treatment–Related Side Effects — The Oncologist
  13. 3 Reasons To Quit Smoking After a Cancer Diagnosis — Cleveland Clinic
  14. Tobacco Use Causes Almost One Third of Cancer Deaths in the WHO European Region — World Health Organization
  15. Mayo Clinic Q and A: Why You Should Quit Smoking Even After a Cancer Diagnosis — Mayo Clinic News Network
  16. Health Benefits of Quitting Smoking Over Time — American Cancer Society
  17. Smoking Fewer Cigarettes — University of Michigan Health
  18. Cutting Down To Quit — NHS Inform
  19. Electronic Cigarettes. Potential Harms and Benefits — Annals of the American Thoracic Society
  20. E-Cigarettes Induce Toxicological Effects That Can Raise the Cancer Risk — Scientific Reports
  21. Health Risks of E-Cigarettes — American Cancer Society
  22. COVID-19: Medical Conditions — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Howard Goodman, M.D. is certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and specializes in the surgical management of women with gynecologic cancer. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.. Learn more about him here.
Alicia Adams is a graduate of Ohio State University and worked at their medical research facilities supporting oncology physicians and investigators. Learn more about her here.

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