Cancer Trials Assess the Fire, not the Smoke

Cancer trials in general do not consider participants' tobacco use history

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) About 50 percent of all cancers are related to tobacco use, which also interferes with the effectiveness of treatments. A person's history with tobacco is important if they're participating in a cancer study. 

Yet roughly three-quarters of cancer clinical trials do not assess a person's tobacco history at any time during their participation in the study.

Help with quitting is not provided either.

"Quitting smoking is the best thing you can do."

A multi-center research team led by Graham Warren, MD, PhD, assistant professor of radiation medicine at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI), discovered these surprising facts after surveying clinical trials currently being conducted.

“Tobacco use during cancer therapy reduces the effectiveness of treatments, increases the toxicity of those treatments and ultimately causes more people to die from their cancer,” said Dr. Warren.

A total of 155 national clinical trials being funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) were evaluated.

Researchers found than less than 30 percent of the trials learned about a person's tobacco history when they were enrolled in the study. Far fewer -- only 5 percent -- assessed tobacco use during follow-up.

Not a single trial offered participants support in kicking the habit.

“The lack of evidence-based tobacco assessment and cessation support limits our ability to accurately assess how tobacco use may affect clinical trial outcomes and survival," Dr. Warren said.

“Patients enrolled in cutting-edge research studies may not be receiving support to help them stop using tobacco. Evidence shows that cessation of tobacco use reduces incidence of heart disease and pulmonary disease and may improve cancer control,” he said.

Study findings were presented at a Congressional briefing and to experts working in the in the National Cancer Policy Forum Workshop on Reducing Tobacco-Related Cancer Incidence and Mortality, sponsored by the Institutes of Medicine.

Study co-author, Roy S. Herbst, MD, PhD, chief of medical oncology at Yale Cancer Center, added, "There is a critical need to include tobacco cessation as an important part of standard clinical care for cancer patients.

 Findings were published June 11, 2012 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 18, 2012
Last Updated:
November 7, 2012