Nova Scotia·Health Hacks

Kicking nicotine can increase your odds of surviving cancer

Nicotine is incredibly addictive, and even if you know it’s killing you, quitting isn’t easy. But if you’re undergoing any sort of treatment for cancer, Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton says getting off nicotine can only help your chances of survival.

'If you're still smoking, you are stacking the odds way against yourself,' says health-care consultant

New research suggests continuing to smoke while getting cancer treatments reduces the effectiveness of treatments compared to not smoking. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

This is part of a series from CBC's Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her "health hacks" — ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

Nicotine is incredibly addictive, and even if you know it's killing you, quitting isn't easy.

But if you're undergoing any sort of treatment for cancer, Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton said getting off nicotine can only help your cause.

New research suggests if you smoke while having cancer treatments, the treatment will likely be 30 to 40 per cent less effective than if you stopped smoking, Hampton told CBC's Information Morning.

"If you're still smoking, you are stacking the odds way against yourself," she said.

Mary Jane Hampton is a health-care consultant in Halifax. She shares a weekly Health Hack with CBC's Information Morning. (Robert Short/CBC)

Smoking can also increase the likelihood of developing more cancer and generally shorten your survival rate. 

"It's kind of a triple threat," said Hampton.

She said some physicians may be reluctant to tell a cancer patient to stop smoking, because they feel the patient already has enough on their plate.

"There is a responsibility to have that conversation," said Hampton. "Don't set a patient up to be going through a potentially hellish treatment if the odds are going to be stacked so far against them."

Where to ask for help

If you're looking for help to quit smoking, Hampton said 811 can connect you with Tobacco Free Nova Scotia, which has resources including free counselling.

Asking your health provider for a referral will get you on a priority list to fast-track the process.

If you're admitted to the hospital, Hampton said it's likely the staff will offer you a nicotine replacement therapy while you're there, such as the patch or Nicorette gum. If no one offers, ask for the therapy yourself.

"Time is of the essence," she said. "Don't waste time doing this."

Private health-plan coverage?

Hampton said private health plans may provide coverage for nicotine replacement therapy. Otherwise, the only way to get free access is in a group smoking cessation program through mental health and addictions services.

But that's not always an option for cancer patients, because you might be immunosuppressed or travelling for treatment.

Hampton said a pilot project in Cape Breton will soon offer nicotine replacement therapy within the cancer program, and hopefully that practice could extend to other parts of the province if the pilot goes well.

A cancer diagnosis makes it more important than ever to stop smoking. Mary Jane Hampton tells us about new research. 7:52

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With files from CBC's Information Morning

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