Cancer Survivors Need Help to Quit Cigarettes


Cancer survivors, who smoked cigarettes before treatment, may need more help from hospitals to quit. A report published Wednesday in the journal, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, showed that nearly one in 10 cancer survivors continue to smoke. Lee Westmaas, PhD and lead author of the study, commented that the research showed how much of a challenge it is for individuals to quit smoking.

Previously there had been no study that looked into the smoking habits of long-term survivors, although a few had looked into short-term. The study questioned approximately 3,000 cancer survivors nine years after they were diagnosed. All participants were assumed to have begun smoking before their diagnosis. The survivors who continued to smoke came out to 9.3 percent, about half the rate of adult smokers in the US. A large majority of  those who had not continued smoking, said that they managed to quit before their diagnosis.

Cancer type was taken into consideration in the study. It found that among the 10 cancer types surveyed, the highest rate of smokers were found in bladder and lung cancer survivors. These two cancer types are among the most commonly linked to cigarette smoke. This information created concern in the authors of the study. They indicated that cancer survivors who smoked cigarettes heavily needed a more intense cessation plan to help them quit smoking. There are cessation plans in place at many hospitals, but the new information suggests that outreach to patients can be improved where psychological and other health related variables may not have been taken into account.

“We need to do more to intervene with these patients,” says Westmass. A recorded 83 percent of survivors smoked 14.7 cigarettes per day, showing that the level of addiction is particularly high. There is a continuation of heavy smokers despite the serious health risks that they face. Smoking can increase the chance of cancer recurrence, shorten survival time and reduce the effectiveness of treatment. The authors of the study believe that possible influences for heavy smokers continuing to smoke include skewed beliefs on fatalism and perceptions on risk.

Lower education and lower-income survivors were found to be the most likely to continue smoking. Westmass dictates that this may be a result of patients having less access to cessation treatment and little awareness of the program and how it can help. Other common characteristics of addicted survivors were those who were young, female and/or married.

Another study in Ontario, found that smokers with physical disabilities needed more attention to quit smoking. As a result they developed a more intense cessation plan that proved to be cost-effective. Patients who continued smoking after treatments were more likely to return to the hospital with declining health, which ended costing more that what it would take for hospitals to administer cessation tactics when the patients were first hospitalized.

Westmass advises long-term follow ups on patients after they have returned home.  Hospitals can make greater efforts to educate smokers as patients, making them aware of options. They should be told about possible medications to help them quit, and be offered appropriate counseling. It is the hope of the study’s authors that cancer survivors will receive the help they need to quit smoking cigarettes. If hospitals can intervene, then they may be able to save more lives in the long run.

By Kamille Dawkins


USA Today
American Cancer Society

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