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Myeloma Lifestyle Changes: Drinking and Smoking Habits

Posted on June 23, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Mark Levin, M.D.
Article written by
Sarah Winfrey

There are limited and sometimes confusing findings on the connections between drinking alcohol and various types of cancer. However, alcohol can also interact with some drugs used during cancer treatment, which might increase the risk of harmful side effects.

Research also shows new connections between using both alcohol and tobacco and being diagnosed with particular kinds of cancer. Alcohol and smoking also weaken the immune system, which is a part of the body’s defense against all types of cancer.

If you’ve been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, it’s important to evaluate your smoking and drinking habits. Eliminating or limiting alcohol could not only help your cancer treatment but also improve your overall health. Getting rid of tobacco products can help you recover faster after myeloma treatment, especially if you are undergoing chemotherapy.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with myeloma, it’s important to understand how alcohol, tobacco, and cancer are connected. Here, we will consider how drinking and smoking affect overall health, treatment outcomes, and quality of life in multiple myeloma. We will also explore some ways of reducing or eliminating drinking and smoking habits when living with myeloma.

Alcohol Consumption and Cancer Risk

Numerous studies have established a connection between alcohol consumption and cancer risk, including liver, colon, and breast cancer. The conclusion is that alcohol is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing substance), and drinking alcohol may be a risk factor for many types of cancer (malignancies).

Some cancer research suggests, however, that heavy alcohol use is not associated with an increased risk of developing myeloma or other blood cancers, like leukemia or lymphoma. There is also some evidence that light drinking (defined as fewer than one drink per day) is associated with a slightly reduced incidence of myeloma.

Drinking Alcohol After a Myeloma Diagnosis

Despite a potentially decreased risk of developing myeloma with alcohol use, there are several reasons you may want to limit your alcohol intake or eliminate alcohol consumption if you already have myeloma. If you are wondering whether drinking alcohol with myeloma is OK for you, talk to your oncologist and health care team. They will be able to give you personalized advice about the safety of consuming alcohol during and after myeloma treatment.

Drinking Alcohol During Myeloma Treatment

Alcohol has been found to interfere with chemotherapy and potentially decrease its efficacy. That’s because alcohol and certain cancer drugs are processed in the liver. Alcohol can cause the organ to become inflamed. Inflammation of the liver can inhibit the breakdown of chemotherapy drugs and even worsen the side effects a person experiences during myeloma treatment.

For instance, drinking alcohol — even in moderation — can aggravate the mouth sores that result from chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Drinking alcohol may also put you at risk of dehydration or nutrient deficiency during cancer treatment. Because of these risks, your health care team may recommend that you avoid alcohol at certain points during your myeloma treatment.

Alcohol and Insomnia

Drinking alcohol in excess has been found to have an impact on sleep quality and contribute to insomnia. Some people, like one member at MyMyelomaTeam, experience insomnia regularly after their diagnosis. As this member wrote, “I had a bad week. I had bad sleep and insomnia, then I was tired all day.” If avoiding alcohol can eliminate or limit this problem, most people find it worth the effort, as getting enough sleep is important for the body’s ability to heal and recover.

Limiting Alcohol Consumption With Myeloma

Research has shown that the important factor when it comes to drinking with a cancer diagnosis is the amount — not type — of alcohol you consume. Although you should also ask your health care team if you can consume alcohol during and after treatment, the following may help you drink in moderation if you choose to do so.

Limit Daily Drinking

Experts agree that men should consume no more than two alcoholic drinks per day. For women, the recommendation is limited to one drink per day.

A standard drink is defined as:

  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 1.5 ounce of liquor

Eliminate Binge Drinking

Binge drinking, or periods of heavy drinking, has been found to increase the risk of developing certain types of cancer. Binge drinking is defined as having four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men in a short period of time.

Some MyMyelomaTeam members have found that limiting their alcohol consumption improves their lives in major ways. One explained, “I used to drink heavily. Upon diagnosis, I discovered that heavy alcohol use is NOT the best choice for someone diagnosed with multiple myeloma. It was enhancing all the negative results of multiple myeloma. I had to stop drinking. I did stop, and my life has been so much more satisfying.”

Smoking After a Myeloma Diagnosis

Quitting smoking can be difficult. As one MyMyelomaTeam member asked, “I need to stop smoking! Any tips?” Another member in a similar position responded, “When you figure out how to stop, let me know.”

Despite the difficulty, there are many reasons to quit smoking. Cigarette smoking harms the entire body and increases the risk of a host of health issues, including heart disease.

Quitting smoking can have even more positive impacts if you are living with a diagnosis of myeloma. Keep reading to find out how smoking cigarettes may affect you during and after myeloma treatment.

Smoking and Myeloma Treatment

Like excessive drinking, smoking cigarettes has been found to affect how the body breaks down chemotherapy drugs, which can decrease the efficacy of cancer treatment.

Research has also shown that smoking cigarettes can worsen the side effects of myeloma treatments like chemotherapy. Worsened side effects may include nausea, pain, fatigue, and hair loss. According to one study, those who were current smokers and underwent cancer treatment reported more side effects than nonsmokers even six months after their treatments ended.

The good news? If you stop smoking before beginning myeloma treatment, you will likely experience the same level of severity and type of side effects as people who did not smoke, to begin with.

Smoking and Myeloma Recovery

Smoking cigarettes makes it more difficult for you to recover from cancer treatment. It also puts you at a higher risk of developing treatment-related complications, such as slow wound healing.

Smoking and Myeloma Recurrence

Smoking raises your risk of developing cancers like lung, throat, mouth, and kidney cancer. Quitting smoking can help increase survivorship by decreasing the chances that you will develop another cancer after undergoing myeloma treatment. Cancer prevention is always key, especially if you have beaten it once already.

Quitting Smoking With Myeloma

If you have tried to quit smoking, you know that it can be a challenging task. You are not alone in this feeling. The American Lung Association reports that the average smoker tries to quit between six and 11 times before they successfully give up the habit.

Members agree. As one explained, “Quitting smoking is tough. I did it 30 years ago and had to try several times before I stopped, but it is so worth it. I substituted it with working out and physical activity.” Another shared that their health care team’s dedication was what ultimately drove them to quit: “Today, I stopped smoking. They are doing so much to help me, and I have to do my part. I have been smoking for 55 years, and I am going cold turkey. I have to for my treatments and stem cell transplant to have a chance to work.”

You may be more successful in your attempt to quit smoking for good if you have the right support. Although just 4 percent to 7 percent of those who try to quit cold turkey succeed on their first attempt, getting the support and assistance you need can make a world of difference.

Have an open, honest dialogue with your health care team and follow up with them regularly. Their job is not to judge your habit — their job is to help you on the path to becoming smoke-free. Your health care team may recommend the following tips to help you kick smoking for good.

Have a Plan

Coming up with a plan for quitting may help you stick with it. Some of the steps for making a plan to quit recommended by the National Institutes of Health’s Smokefree website include the following suggestions.

Set a Date

Pick a day within the next two weeks when you will quit. Take care to choose a stress-free day (for instance, during the weekend) and let others know of the date so they can support you.

Identify Your “Why”

Aside from staying healthy, why are you choosing to quit smoking? Do you want to save money, feel more in control of your life, or keep those around you healthy? Identifying these factors can help you stay motivated through the ups and downs of quitting.

Know Your Triggers

Take notice of the situations, emotions, or occasions that make you want to smoke. Maybe you reach for a cigarette when you are particularly stressed, or perhaps you’re used to smoking on your daily lunch break. Finding other ways to fill your time or deal with difficult emotions can help you prepare for these urges.

Fight Your Cravings

Even if you’re ready to quit smoking, cravings will arise. When this happens, will you do 10 push-ups? Meditate? Call a friend, family member, or caregiver for support? Having a plan of action for when these cravings occur can help you stay on track.

Smoking Support Groups

Having a support system or program may help increase your chances of success when quitting. Some people prefer in-person smoking cessation groups, and others prefer the convenience and flexibility of online support groups.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products such as gum, lozenges, and patches can make quitting smoking easier. These products contain controlled amounts of nicotine — the active ingredient that makes cigarettes so addictive — to help curb cravings and withdrawal symptoms. As one MyMyelomaTeam member wrote to another who is trying to quit smoking, “Have you tried any of the nicotine-stopping patches, gum, etc.? They might help!”

Some NRT products are available over the counter without a prescription. Others require a prescription, like nicotine nasal sprays and inhalers. It may take some time for you to find the right NRT product.

Medication To Help You Quit Smoking

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two nicotine-free medications to help with quitting smoking: Chantix (varenicline tartrate) and Zyban (bupropion hydrochloride). Both medications require a prescription.

Get Support Today

Living with myeloma can be a challenge, especially if you’re trying to quit smoking or limit your drinking. MyMyelomaTeam provides a social network for those diagnosed with myeloma and the people who love and care for them. Here, you can find the support that can help you limit or quit drinking and stop smoking. Ask your questions, share your story, and join ongoing conversations to meet people from around the world who understand your journey.

Did you change your lifestyle habits after being diagnosed with myeloma? Share your experience and tips in the comments below or by posting on MyMyelomaTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Mark Levin, M.D. is a hematology and oncology specialist with over 37 years of experience in internal medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Sarah Winfrey is a writer at MyHealthTeam. Learn more about her here.

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