Category Archives: J. Lee Westmaas

Continuing to smoke after a cancer diagnosis

By J. Lee Westmaas, PhD

While the American Cancer Society and other organizations traditionally focus on getting smokers to quit before they develop cancer, there’s a group of smokers who are especially susceptible to the negative effects of smoking. They are cancer survivors – some of whom have been diagnosed with a smoking-related cancer. It’s easy to say, “If you get cancer, then you should know better and quit, and stay quit,” but that’s not the whole story.

Getting a cancer diagnosis does motivate some smokers to quit. Using data from the American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study-II, we found that about 1 out of 3 smokers quit smoking when they were diagnosed with cancer. That compares with only 1 out of 5 smokers who quit but were not diagnosed with cancer during the same time periods studied.

Even smokers whose cancer was not strongly linked to smoking (like breast cancer) quit at higher rates than undiagnosed smokers. These results were not caused by the smokers being unable to smoke due to their illness; those people were excluded from the study.

Smoking: Risky for patients and survivors

Quitting is particularly important for cancer patients and survivors because smoking can increase the likelihood of a recurrence, delay wound healing, and make cancer treatments less effective.… Continue reading →

Stigma presents an extra burden for many lung cancer patients

By J. Lee Westmaas, PhD

 

Some of us, at some point in time, have felt judged negatively by others or discriminated against because of some personal characteristic or behavior. Researchers refer to this as feeling stigmatized, and lung cancer patients report feeling this way more than patients with other types of cancers.

Many individuals with lung cancer fear that others will react to their diagnosis with blame, exclusion, rejection and/or discrimination. Many actually experience this as well.  A primary reason is that smoking is so strongly linked to lung cancer.

Blaming the victim

Lung cancer was one of the first diseases to be identified as caused by smoking. Smoking rates have decreased dramatically since the 1960s due to laws to restrict smoking, greater publicity on the many harms of smoking, and a change in public attitudes toward smoking. [more]

A result of these changes may be a “blame-the-victim” attitude toward someone who gets lung cancer. In one study, individuals with lung cancer (92% of whom were smokers) more often agreed with the statement “my behavior contributed to my cancer” compared to people with breast and prostate cancer, which are less strongly linked with smoking. Lung cancer patients were also more likely to agree with the statements:

  •  “I am ashamed I got my type of cancer,”
  • “My family feels ashamed of my type of cancer,” and
  • “I am embarrassed to tell people my type of cancer,”

when compared to breast and prostate cancer patients.… Continue reading →

Light smoking as risky as a pack a day?

By J. Lee Westmaas, PhD

Do you occasionally have a cigarette, maybe not even every day? Although people resolve to quit smoking in the new year, you might think only heavy smokers need to quit. But that isn’t the case.

Light or intermittent smoking has become a very common pattern for people of any age.  Many of these people do not feel addicted to tobacco and do not even call themselves “smokers.” There are, however, some real risks associated with any level of smoking. Non-daily smoking, or smoking 1-5 cigarettes a day, was first noticed as far back as 1989 because it was a stark contrast to the more common pattern at that time — 20 to 30 cigarettes a day. At that time, very light smokers were labeled “chippers” (a term that also referred to occasional users of opiates who appeared to not be addicted). Chippers didn’t appear to smoke to relieve withdrawal, and sometimes didn’t smoke for a day or more. [more]


Number of ‘chippers’ growing

Since that time, occasional smoking has become a lot more common. The number of U.S. smokers who claim to not smoke every day increased 40% between 1996 and 2001. In fact, half of U.S.… Continue reading →