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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 03/ 3/2011

Could quitting smoking be a symptom of lung cancer?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

A provocative, though small, study suggests that the very act of quitting smoking may be a symptom of not-yet-diagnosed lung cancer.

That's the curious conclusion reached by a team of researchers led by Barbara Campling at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia when they surveyed 115 lung cancer patients, all of them current or former smokers, at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The team asked when the patients had stopped smoking relative to their diagnosis and onset of symptoms and how difficult or easy it had been for them to quit. They also used a standard tool called the Fagerstrom Test for Nicotine Dependence to calculate how addicted they had been to nicotine at the peak of their smoking habit.

Campling and her team, whose work appears in the March issue of the Journal of Thoracic Oncology, undertook the study on a hunch: They had observed that many of their own lung-cancer patients had quit smoking before they were diagnosed, often without consciously deciding to do so. The team was aware of the common wisdom that holds that people typically quit smoking in response to the appearance of symptoms suggestive of lung cancer. But they weren't convinced that was really how things work.

Their study appears to bear out their hunches. They learned that 55 of the 115 patients had quit smoking before being diagnosed, all but six of them before any lung cancer symptoms appeared. Of those who quit, 31 percent reported they'd done so with ease. But not because they had never been addicted: Their levels of addiction had been the same, when they were smoking the most, as those who hadn't quit.

Their research also teased out the fact that people didn't quit smoking just because they'd lost the taste for it. Instead, the authors suggest, the presence of a lung-cancer tumor may somehow block the body's uptake of, or desire for, nicotine; perhaps, they surmise, such tumors may secrete a chemical that makes that happen.

They acknowledge that their work has limitations, among them the small sample size and the fact that the data was self-reported and after the fact. Still, they believe they're on to something -- something that should be looked into further, in a larger study of different design.

Campling and team clearly have grappled with the implications of their work and the potential for it to be misunderstood as encouragement for people to keep smoking. Though they note that their findings build on previous data showing that people who quit smoking are more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer in the time immediately after they quit than those who keep smoking, they insist that their conclusions are not to be read as suggesting that people who smoke keep doing so:

We believe that long-term heavy smokers who quit, especially without difficulty, are at risk for having or developing lung cancer. Our study could be dangerously misinterpreted to suggest that those who have smoked heavily for most of their lives might be better off to continue smoking. This is clearly not the case. All smokers, especially heavy smokers, must be strongly encouraged to stop.

So what are we to take away from this? The study concludes that if we come to understand spontaneous smoking cessation as a potential warning sign that lung cancer may be afoot, that could lead to earlier diagnosis -- one of the best, but most elusive, weapons against that deadly disease.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | March 3, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Cancer, Smoking  
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I do not know what group was in this research but my grandpa smoked for about 70 years and not this sisi staff as we do.
Real tobacco with all it nuts and bolts.
He went as a soldier through WW1 and has been subjected to a german gas attack at least twice, once almost lost his eye sights.
Yet, he died at age of 89 after stupid surgeon forgot some surgery instrument in his belly -- appendices surgery went wrong.
Interestingly enough his autopsy said that his lungs was almost as good as they expected in the man half of his age!!!

For me it saying that smoking have it side-affects on the health, no doubt about this, but is it all bad?
I do not think so.
Me, I am a smoker since 14 and I do keep my body in good shape. Some of the younger guys in gim could not believe that I smoking almost 1 pack a day and they could not keep up with me there(in gim or on runway).

Posted by: allblond78 | March 3, 2011 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Healthcare Town Hall ยป Actuarial study anticipates, supports recent findings on lung cancer screening.

Posted by: JEngdahlJ | March 3, 2011 9:54 PM | Report abuse

My grandmother also quit smoking before being diagnosed with lung cancer.

Smoking is nasty- it smells disgusting even on someone's clothes or hair hours later, it makes people look stupid, and people who flick their cigarette butts on the ground should be fined $50 per butt for littering. Any reason to quit is a good one, if you ask me.

Posted by: dcn8v | March 4, 2011 7:34 AM | Report abuse

These are very premature conclusions, this was only a survey. To draw the conclusion a prospective controlled trial would have to be conducted.

This is just an idea. You cannot draw this kind of conclusion from this type of study, good thing to study prospectively however.

Posted by: dwcriswell | March 4, 2011 10:07 AM | Report abuse

I hate smokers. They are stupid, reckless, self indulgent, have no self control, litter, start fires and increase healthcare costs. Not to mention the fact that they die before their time, thereby depriving their family members and loved ones of their commitment, love and support.

Posted by: PepperDr | March 4, 2011 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Changing your diet is far more important than quitting smoking. Quitting smoking is an mental admission that all the nay sayers are right and you are wrong. This is the result of 20 years of litigation and propaganda against smoking.

When a mother warns to dress extra warm or you will catch a cold - this is often all that is necessary - for the disease process to work and to catch a cold.

The biggest obstacle to recovering from a heart attack or stroke is giving up and becoming depressed about your health and future. It trumps medical intervention every time.

Posted by: alance | March 4, 2011 11:42 AM | Report abuse

When you go through one of those support groups when you quit smoking you are more likely to come down with lung cancer or some other cancer. The whole focus of the support is to emphasize how nasty and costly tobacco is for your health.

This kicks in the fear factor. OMG - I hope I quit in time so I won't come down with a deadly disease. Every public health message against smoking is reinforcement that you are going to die. Every warning on every cigarette pack is reinforcement that you are going to die. Every time the greedy politicians ban smoking or raise taxes on tobacco - is reinforcement that you are going to die.

Posted by: alance | March 4, 2011 12:04 PM | Report abuse

There have been more than 50 studies which show that human papillomaviruses cause ever ten times more lung cancers than the anti-smokers pretend are caused by secondhand smoke. Smokers and passive smokers are more likely to get this virus, for socioeconomic reasons. The anti-smokers deliberately use studies based on lifestyle questionnaires to exploit this fact and falsely blame those extra lung cancers that are really caused by HPV on tobacco. This is scientific fraud.

And the media keep the public ignorant so they can get away with it.

Posted by: CarolT1 | March 4, 2011 5:30 PM | Report abuse

My Mom quit smoking (after 30+ years) 3 months before being diagnosed with stage 4, non-small cell lung cancer.

It is very interesting that there may be a link.

Posted by: Kate45 | March 4, 2011 6:19 PM | Report abuse

This seems completely backwards. Why didn't they take a sample of smokers, track who quits, track who quits easily, and track who gets cancer? Given that so many smokers are constantly trying to quit, it makes sense that out of a small group of lung cancer patients, some of them will have quit smoking.

Posted by: dkp01 | March 4, 2011 8:28 PM | Report abuse

perhaps the act of quitting smoking gives you lung cancer...??!!

Posted by: bayroad22 | March 4, 2011 9:14 PM | Report abuse

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