80% of Cancer Patients Won’t Stop Doing This

It turns out that seniors may be some of the most stubborn patients when it comes to smoking cessation, according to new research published in the Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological and Social Sciences.

Researchers obtained their data from approximately 11,000 Americans, aged 50-85, that participated in the Health and Retirement Study which is an on-going survey that began in 1992. Jason T. Newsom and his team of researchers were attempting to determine the extent to which older individuals modify smoking, alcohol consumption and exercise participation behaviors after being diagnosed with a chronic condition (heart disease, cancer, stroke, lung disease, and/or diabetes). Newsom stated that modifying these particular behaviors after a chronic disease diagnosis is important in order to maintain quality of life, to reduce the risk of complications and further damage, and to extend the life span.


The results showed that while a diagnosis of any of these conditions resulted in smokers reducing the number of cigarettes they smoked; only 19% of participants diagnosed with lung disease actually quit smoking within 2 years. Results that were not associated with smoking cessation showed that changes in exercises participation did not improve following the diagnosis of a chronic condition.  However, patients that were diagnosed with cancer, lung disease and stroke actually reduced their percentage of exercising. The researchers note that this may be due to the physical limitations that these individuals have due to the damage that these diseases cause. Additionally, individuals that were diagnosed with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and lung disease significantly reduced their alcohol consumption.

Why Seniors Won’t Quit Smoking

The fact that over 80% of individuals diagnosed with lung disease won’t quit smoking is disturbing because in addition to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma and other chronic lung diseases, smoking can also lead to lung cancer.  Lung cancer is a serious disease which causes ample damage and can lead to death.  According to Health Canada, the risk of lung cancer increases substantially with the amount an individual smokes, the number of years spent smoking and the younger that a person begins smoking.  The risk of dying from lung cancer is up to 25 times higher in smokers compared to non-smokers.  Previous research has shown that 80% of lung cancer deaths are related to smoking. However, second-hand exposure to smoke can also cause lung cancer.  The risk of developing lung cancer because of second-hand exposure is greatest for individuals living with a smoker.  The good news is that if you quit smoking, your risk of lung cancer will decrease.  Ten years after you quit smoking, your risk of lung cancer is one-third to one-half of that of a smoker. If you live with a non-smoker, they will also benefit if you quit smoking as the damage to their lungs will also be reduced.

A few socio-demographic changes that were noted by the researchers:


1.            Women and younger individuals were more likely to decrease exercises participation and decrease alcohol consumption

2.            Individuals who had a higher education were more likely to quit smoking, increase exercises participation and decrease alcohol consumption

This research provides insight into the need to explain the risk of continued smoking to the older adult population, especially after being diagnosed with lung disease.  Continued smoking after diagnosis can lead to further damage and increase the risk of death in these patients.  Patients need to be educated on lifestyle changes after diagnosis to improve their quality of life and extend their lifespan.