Talking With Your Health Care Team About Smoking or Other Tobacco Use

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 01/2019

Many people with cancer do not want to tell their doctor about their tobacco use. There may be several reasons for this, including:

  • Concern that the doctor may judge them

  • Concern that they may receive less support for their cancer diagnosis

  • Belief that quitting after a diagnosis of cancer is pointless

  • Belief that using tobacco can help relieve the stress of a cancer diagnosis

In reality, your doctor will not judge you or provide less cancer care. Instead, talking about your tobacco use will help your doctor support you better.

Tobacco products contain nicotine, which is addictive. Addiction makes it hard to stop smoking, even if you are motivated to quit.

But it is never too late to quit smoking. Quitting smoking has significant health benefits, even after a cancer diagnosis. And your health care team wants to help you reach this goal.

Facts to share with your health care team

Share specific information about your smoking history and current tobacco use with your health care team. This will help in making your treatment plan. Let them know:

  • Whether you currently smoke cigarettes

  • Whether you smoke within the first 30 minutes after waking up

  • How many cigarettes per day you smoke regularly

  • How many years you have smoked

  • What age you began smoking

  • How long it has been since you last smoked regularly, if you have stopped smoking

  • How many times you have tried to quit smoking

  • How long you were successful with each attempt to quit smoking

  • What methods you have used or are using now 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

  • How often you use or have used forms of tobacco other than cigarettes

  • Whether your tobacco use has changed after receiving a cancer diagnosis

Questions to ask your health care team

In addition to sharing information, consider asking these questions:

  • How will continuing to smoke or use other tobacco products affect cancer treatment?

  • How is smoking or using tobacco hurting my general health?

  • What are the health benefits of quitting tobacco?

  • Will I have more or different side effects from cancer treatment if I continue using tobacco?

  • How can I create a plan to stop using tobacco?

  • What medications are available to help me stop?

  • Where can I find resources, such as counseling and support groups?

  • How can I manage or avoid situations that make me want to smoke or use tobacco?

  • How can the health care team help me with this process?

  • How can my family and friends help me?

  • Who can help me understand the costs of programs to help me quit using tobacco?

  • How often should you and I discuss my progress?

Also consider telling the doctor about your fears or other barriers to quitting. Together, you can find ways to address your concerns.

Related Resources

How to Quit Smoking and Using Tobacco

Resources to Help You Quit Smoking

Benefits of Quitting Tobacco Use

More Information

MedlinePlus: Nicotine and Tobacco Nicotine Withdrawal