4 Reasons to Quit Smoking After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Talking to patients about the impact of tobacco use on breast cancer is an important skill for tobacco treatment specialists


Kim Slawson, MSN, FNP-C

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer affecting American women—1 in 8 women will be diagnosed in their lifetimes, according to the CDC. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time for highlighting the importance of prevention and treatment of this common cancer that impacts the lives of many women. An important and often overlooked risk modifier after a breast cancer diagnosis is smoking cessation.


Kim Slawson, a Family Nurse Practitioner with the Duke Cancer Institute’s Center for Onco-Primary Care, works with breast cancer survivors who have completed their initial treatment and are now focusing on recovery.

“They have beaten their cancer and now want to live their best possible lives,” Kim said. “I work with them, their loved ones, their oncology provider, and primary care providers to create a plan for their optimal overall health.”

Kim talks to any of her patients who use tobacco about the important health benefits of quitting smoking. Studies to date have shown a modest but significant increase risk for breast cancer in women who smoke, especially those who started smoking as an adolescent or have a family history of breast cancer. However, there is overwhelming evidence to support the large impact of smoking cessation after a breast cancer diagnosis.


Kim shared some of the top research findings to support a compelling argument for counseling patients to quit smoking after a breast cancer diagnosis. Here are 4 reasons to share with your patients:

  1. Improved surgical outcomes. Smoking impairs wound healing, causing poor surgical outcomes, and increases the risk of complications post-operatively among patients having breast reconstruction surgeries.

  2. Better response to treatment. Due to its influence on the tumor microenvironment, smoking affects the body’s response to chemotherapy. Patients who quit smoking also experience fewer side effects during and after their cancer treatment.

  3. Decreased risk of mortality. Patients who quit smoking after a breast cancer diagnosis had a 33% decrease in long-term breast cancer mortality, as well as a decreased risk of death from a respiratory cancer and heart disease. Continued smoking negatively influences overall survival after diagnosis.

  4. Less breast cancer recurrence and fewer secondary cancers. Smoking is associated with a higher rate of breast cancer recurrence after partial mastectomy and radiation. Quitting smoking after a breast cancer diagnosis decreases the risk of developing a secondary cancer, such as lung cancer.

Counseling cancer patients on the benefits of quitting smoking is an important part of our role as tobacco treatment specialists. Check out one of our upcoming trainings at dukeunctts.com to learn more about this important topic.


About The Author Rachael Joyner is a family nurse practitioner with the Duke Smoking Cessation Program. She holds a National Certificate in Tobacco Treatment Practice and received her Doctorate in Nursing Practice from the University of Florida. She loves working collaboratively with patients to help them become tobacco free.