CANCER
January 21, 2011

Cancer, Pain and Smoking

Is it that smoking actually increases cancer pain, or that greater pain increases smoking? Some findings.

One way people can reduce the pain that accompanies cancer is for those who smoke to stop smoking.

Researchers found that cancer patients who had never smoked reported less pain than those who still smoked. They also reported fewer complications from pain than either former smokers or current smokers did. And former smokers had increasingly less pain the longer it had been since they stopped smoking.

Patients who smoked had more pain, regardless of how much or how little they smoked.

There was no association found between the number of cigarettes smoked per day and increased pain. Patients who smoked had more pain, regardless of how much or how little they smoked.

The researchers aren't sure why smoking and increased pain are linked in cancer patients. One possibility is because smoking lowers blood and oxygen flow to the body's tissues. It's also possible that increased pain is a factor that causes people to smoke. Whatever the reasons, the study points out that smoking and increased pain occur together in cancer patients.

For over two decades, researchers have suggested that one reason smokers continue to smoke is that smoking provides some short-term pain relief, either because of the nicotine in tobacco or for psychological reasons. But this doesn't appear to be true for smokers who have cancer.

The study looked at 224 cancer patients with varying types and severity of cancer. Their average age was 56. Time since diagnosis with cancer averaged 10 months and ranged from zero months to over 13 years. Former smokers in the study had quit anywhere from 1 month to over 50 years before the study's start.

Because the study was part of a larger study that also tested the effect of exercise on pain, it only included patients who were well enough to be able to participate in moderate intensity exercise, meaning that the sickest patients were excluded. Eighty-eight percent (88%) of the study participants were Caucasian; 63% were female. The study only contained 36 current smokers. These are all reasons why it's uncertain whether the study's results will apply to all cancer patients. At the same time, there's no compelling reason to think that they won't.

Cancer patients who still smoke and are looking for pain relief should try quitting.

An article detailing the study results was published in the January 2011 issue of Pain.

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