Quitting Tobacco

Tobacco use, including cigarettes and chewing tobacco, is one of the biggest risk factors for developing head and neck cancer, specifically cancer of the mouth, throat, and voice box. Approximately 85% of head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco use, and depending on the frequency of the tobacco use, it can negatively impact the effectiveness of head and neck cancer treatment as well. When tobacco use is combined with alcohol consumption, the risk of developing head and neck cancer increases by 15-18 times compared to those who only use tobacco.

It is important to note, however, that many people who do not use tobacco also develop head and neck cancer. It is not a “smoker’s disease,” but smoking does make it more likely. Exposure to second-hand smoke also increases one’s chance of developing head and neck cancer.

If you are a tobacco user, quitting will lower the risk of cancer and other serious health problems. Although it is possible to quit cold-turkey, many people find that developing a quit-smoking (or quit-chewing) plan is beneficial. Below are some ways to start your plan:

Talk to Your Doctor
  • Talking to your doctor can be helpful when you’re ready to quit. They can provide helpful advice and may even offer suggestions tailored to your specific needs.
  • If you have tobacco/nicotine dependence, there are a variety of nicotine replacement patches, gum, lozenges, nasal spray, or inhalers that you can use. Talk to your doctor to see which one would work best for you.
  • Your doctor may also prescribe a medication, like Chantix, that helps reduce your body’s craving for nicotine.
  • There are many types of withdrawal symptoms, such as agitation, anxiety, weight gain, insomnia and depression. If you have trouble managing severe withdrawal symptoms, talk to your doctor about medication that can help reduce those symptoms.
Find Support
  • You may find it easier to cope if you talk to others who are also trying to quit, or those who have successfully quit. Consider finding an online support group or attend an in-person support program in your community.
  • If you would like professional support or assistance, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has trained counselors that can offer support and provide information on quitting. To reach the NCI quitline, call 877-44U-QUIT (877-448-7848). Counselors are available Monday to Friday from 9 AM to 9 PM Eastern, in English and Spanish. To contact your state’s quitline, call 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669). Times of operation may vary by state.
  • You can find support close to home through your friends and family. Let your loved ones know that you are quitting, and ask them for their moral support and cooperation. Ask them not to smoke or chew tobacco around you and to keep their tobacco supplies out of sight; this can help prevent the urge to use tobacco again. Ask them to check on you occasionally to make sure that you are staying on your path to quitting.
Clean Up and Stock Up on Substitutes
  • Remove all your tobacco supplies, including matches and ashtrays, from your car, home and workspace. Wash any items that may have lingering nicotine scent that may make you crave tobacco again.
  • Stock up on substitutes to use instead. If you smoke cigarettes, consider something else to hold in your hand in place of a cigarette. Find oral substitutes, such as gum, hard candy, straws, toothpicks and carrot sticks to keep your mouth occupied. Whichever substitute(s) you choose, be sure to place them in areas where you normally keep your tobacco supplies.
Keep a Journal and Reflect
  • Quitting an old habit and developing a new one can be hard, but keeping a journal, and writing down when you started quitting and why, as well as your progress and milestones can be a good reminder that you’re working hard to improve your health.
  • Consider what your smoking/chewing triggers and tobacco-related habits are. Once you know them, jot down how you can avoid your triggers and make plans for alternatives.
  • If you’ve tried quitting before, you may already know some of your triggers and habits. Try writing down the challenges that you faced, what made you start again, and what didn’t work for you previously. Reflect, and see how you can improve from your last attempt and why you want to start quitting again.

Here are some helpful resources with more information about tobacco and head and neck cancer, general facts on smoking and resources you can use to help you quit smoking:

Information on Head and Neck Cancer and Tobacco:
General Facts and Resources:

1-866-792-4622 (HNCA)

I believe that my success as a cancer patient is first due to the process of recognition on a basic level, that something in my body was not the same as it was and I was worse off.Jessica Tar
Singer, Songwriter, squamous cell carcinoma survivor & 2016 OHANCAW® Spokesperson

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