Persistent smoking after a diagnosis of lung cancer is associated with higher reported pain levels

J Pain. 2009 Mar;10(3):323-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2008.10.006.


The purpose of this study was to evaluate the impact of smoking status after a diagnosis of lung cancer on reported pain levels. We conducted a telephone survey of patients with lung cancer identified from 4 participating sites between September 2004 and July 2006. Patients were asked to rate their usual pain level over the past week on a 0 to 10 rating scale on which 0 was "no pain" and 10 "pain as bad as you can imagine." We operationally defined persistent smokers as patients who reported continuing to smoke after their lung cancer diagnosis. A logistic regression analysis was used to test the hypothesis that persistent smokers report higher usual pain levels than nonsmokers. Overall, 893 patients completed the survey. The majority (76%) was found to have advanced cancer (stages IIIb and IV). The mean age was 63 years (SD = 10). Seventeen percent of the patients studied were categorized as persistent smokers. The mean pain score for the study sample was 3.1 (SD = 2.7) and 41% reported moderate (4 to 6) or severe pain (7 to 10). A greater proportion of persistent smokers reported moderate or severe pain than nonsmokers or former smokers (P < .001). Logistic regression analysis revealed that smoking status was associated with the usual pain even after adjusting for age, perceived health status, and other lung cancer symptoms such as dyspnea, fatigue, and trouble eating. In conclusion, patients who continue to smoke after a diagnosis of lung cancer report higher levels of usual pain than nonsmokers or former smokers. More research is needed to understand the mechanisms that relate nicotine intake to pain and disease progression in late-stage lung cancer.

Perspective: This article examines the relationship between pain and persistent smoking in patients with lung cancer. Although more research is needed to understand the mechanisms that relate nicotine intake to pain and disease progression, physicians can promote smoking cessation in patients with lung cancer to improve health and quality of life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Lung Neoplasms / complications*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain / physiopathology*
  • Pain Measurement / methods
  • Pain Threshold*
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Smoking / physiopathology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors