Talking With Your Doctor About Your Tobacco Use

Many people with cancer hesitate to tell a doctor or other member of the health care team about their smoking or chewing habit. They worry the doctor may judge them or that they may receive less support for their cancer. Other people think quitting after a diagnosis of cancer is pointless because they already have cancer and believe using tobacco can help relieve the stress of a cancer diagnosis. However, none of these ideas is true. In fact, there are significant health benefits linked to stopping tobacco use even after a cancer diagnosis, and your health care team is committed to helping people who want to reach this goal.

It is important to talk with your doctor or other health care professional about your behaviors. People who use tobacco products on a daily basis are addicted to nicotine. No matter what your level of tobacco use, this addiction will make it harder to stop, even if you are motivated to quit. Understanding your level of nicotine dependence will help your doctor determine the appropriate treatment to help you quit and maintain a long-term, nicotine-free lifestyle.

Let your doctor know the following facts about your tobacco use:

  • Whether you’ve smoked at least 100 cigarettes in your lifetime
  • Whether you currently smoke cigarettes
  • Whether you smoke within the first 30 minutes after waking up
  • How many years and how many cigarettes per day you’ve smoked regularly
  • The age you began smoking
  • How long it’s been since you’ve last smoked regularly (if you’ve stopped smoking)
  • How many times you have tried to quit smoking and how long you were successful with each attempt
  • What methods you have used or are now using to try to quit smoking
  • Whether people in your household smoke
  • Whether smoking is allowed in your workplace
  • Whether you use or have used forms of tobacco other than cigarettes and how often you have used them
  • Whether your tobacco usage has changed after being diagnosed with cancer

Myths about quitting smoking

Myth: Smoking is entirely a personal choice.

Fact: Tobacco contains the addictive chemical nicotine, and many people who start smoking quickly become dependent on nicotine.


Myth: There is no point in quitting smoking now that I have cancer.

Fact: It is never too late to quit smoking. People who quit smoking after a cancer diagnosis live longer, have a better chance of successful treatment, experience fewer side effects from treatment, recover faster, and have a better quality of life.


Myth: Quitting smoking is too stressful for patients undergoing cancer treatment.

Fact: Although nicotine dependence is hard to break because the withdrawal process can be uncomfortable, the benefits of quitting smoking outweigh the discomforts.


Myth: Smokers can quit by themselves; a doctor’s advice isn’t needed.

Fact: Doctors and other members of the health care team provide support, information, and any necessary drug therapies to help people quit.


Myth: Most smoking cessation treatments have a low success rate.

Fact: There are several medications that can help you cope with nicotine withdrawal and increase your chances of successfully overcoming your nicotine addiction. Ask your doctor and other members of your health care team for help.

More Information

Stopping Tobacco Use After a Cancer Diagnosis

ASCO Expert Corner: Stopping Tobacco Use After a Cancer Diagnosis

Questions to Ask the Doctor