How to help people with cancer stop smoking

Helping people with cancer to stop smoking is vital because quitting improves health outcomes significantly. A recent study finds that nearly 46% of people with cancer quit smoking through a tailored tobacco treatment program.
Man smoking close up
A recent study assesses a smoking intervention for people with cancer.

It is no secret that smoking is bad for health — smoking, and exposure to tobacco top the causes of premature, preventable death in the United States.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking causes 480,000 deaths a year, or approximately 1 in 5 premature deaths.

Of those deaths, 36% are due to cancer, including cancers of the lung, mouth, bladder, colon, and pancreas; smoking takes its toll on almost every organ in the body.

Once someone receives a cancer diagnosis, they may still find quitting tobacco challenging. However, giving up could significantly improve their outcome.

“[Q]uitting at [the] time of diagnosis increases the chance of survival by 30% to 40%. Patients also have less chance of a recurrence or secondary cancer if they quit,” explains Diane Beneventi, Ph.D., one of the authors of a recent study.

Testing the Tobacco Treatment Program

The recent study concludes that a comprehensive treatment program can help people diagnosed with cancer give up smoking successfully and stay away from tobacco.

Researchers at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas in Austin analyzed 3,245 smokers who took part in their Tobacco Treatment Program from 2006–2015.

The intervention includes a customized program geared to the individual needs of the nearly 1,200 people who agree to participate each year. Participants are offered nicotine replacement therapy, medication, and emotional support through counseling sessions.

Program director, Dr. Maher Karam-Hage, explains what the Tobacco Treatment Program entails:

“We tailor nicotine replacement therapy, non-nicotine medications, and [a] combination of these as recommendations to each individual and provide support through behavioral counseling sessions over 8–12 weeks following their initial consultation.”

When someone who has a diagnosis of cancer self-identifies as a smoker, the clinic offers the quit smoking program free of charge.

MD Anderson can treat people free of charge because the Texas Tobacco Settlement Fund primarily covers the $1,900 to $2,500 costs through the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.

The researchers recently published their results in JAMA Network Open.

The researchers analyzed the results of the individuals at 3, 6, and 9 months after they joined the program and noted that the rate of cessation was 45.1%, 45.8%, and 43.7%, respectively.

Although the study did not include a control group with which to compare the results, the researchers note that other programs encouraging cessation have only managed quit rates of around 20%.

Patients deserve the absolute best opportunity we can give them to quit smoking. Based on our data, we recommend offering comprehensive smoking cessation to cancer patients as a clinical standard of care.”

Lead author Paul Cinciripini, Ph.D.

Important findings

Giving up smoking helps the body to heal after treatments, such as surgery or chemotherapy, and lessens side effects. Quitting can also lower the risk of recurrence or secondary cancer.

“Longer term, [people] will enjoy a better quality of life. Quitting is crucial for cancer patients,” says Beneventi.

Due to the successful outcome of the study, the authors are campaigning for comprehensive tobacco treatment programs within the cancer treatment arena. They want to make sure that people with cancer who smoke achieve the best possible results.

If we want to give patients the absolute best opportunity to treat their cancer, why shouldn’t we give them the best smoking cessation, too? It’s the right thing to do and worth the investment.”

Paul Cinciripini, Ph.D

The CDC estimate that 14 percent of people in the U.S. aged over 18 smoke. Of these 34.3 million people, nearly half have a smoking-related illness. The researchers believe that other states should look at a similar funding strategy to encourage people to quit smoking.

Smokers, regardless of age, can significantly improve their outcomes and lower their risk of disease, including cancer, by giving it up.

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