Benefits of Quitting Tobacco Use for People with Cancer

GettyImages 518351983 edited for webAfter any cancer diagnosis, quitting tobacco use is one of the best things you can do to help your cancer treatment work better. 

What are the benefits of quitting tobacco?

There are many benefits to quitting tobacco use for those diagnosed with cancer:
- Better chance of successful treatment
- Improved health and response to treatment
- Fewer side effects
- Easier breathing
- Improved sleep and energy levels
- Faster recovery from treatment
- Longer life expectancy

Should I quit tobacco use before I start cancer treatment?

Yes, you will also benefit by quitting tobacco use before starting cancer treatment.


Quitting smoking can make surgery safer and help you recover more quickly. People who don’t smoke are less likely to have complications such as infections during or after their surgery, are more likely to heal quickly, and may get better faster and go home sooner.

Cancer drugs

Chemotherapy drugs, as well as immunotherapies and targeted treatments, work better in people who don’t use tobacco.Cigarette smoke contains harmful chemicals that can reduce the blood level of some cancer drugs, which makes them less effective.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy works better if the level of oxygen in your body is normal. When you smoke, the level of oxygen in your body drops, making it harder for radiation to do its job.

> Learn more about why quitting smoking is one the best things you can do to make your cancer treatment work better through this Ontario Health video

Is there a difference between traditional and commercial tobacco?

Yes, traditional and commerical tobacco are not the same.

Traditional tobacco

For many Indigenous communities, traditional tobacco is a gift given by the Creator. Traditional tobacco is not inhaled into the body and is free from poisonous and cancer-causing chemicals. It is not used for recreational or habitual purposes. Traditional tobacco is used to:
- Give thanks to the Creator
- Honour all creatures
- Seek protection and guidance
- Convey gratitude, love, and kindness

Commercial tobacco

Commercially prepared cigarettes, chewing tobacco and snuff are forms of tobacco that contain chemicals that are harmful to the body and can lead to addiction. Commercial tobacco increases your risk of:
- Cancer
- Heart disease
- Stroke
- Type 2 diabetes

> Learn more about the difference between traditional and commercial tobacco from Northern Saskatchewan Breathe Easy:

If I’ve used tobacco for years, will I still benefit from quitting now?

Yes! It’s never too late to stop tobacco use – even after a cancer diagnosis.
Quitting tobacco use after being diagnosed with cancer may decrease the risk of dying by up to 30 to 40 per cent. The benefit of quitting may be equal to or even exceed the value of the best cancer treatments. (USDHHS Surgeon General’s Report, 2014)

It is also important to remove second-hand smoke from your environment. Your family, friends and caregivers can also help by being tobacco free.

Where can I find help to quit tobacco use?

Quitting tobacco can be very challenging. There are several resources available to help you quit, including:
- Members of your cancer care team
- Your family doctor or nurse practitioner
- Your community pharmacist, who may provide PACT (Partnership to Assist with Cessation of Tobacco) counselling and/or prescribe tobacco cessation aids:
- Smokers’ Helpline: 1-877-513-5333;

Adapted with permission from Cancer Care Ontario and Nova Scotia Health Authority Cancer Care Program. Production of this resource has been made possible through financial support from Health Canada through the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.