Helping Cancer Patients Quit Smoking

Smoking cessation for cancer patients is vital to the cancer fight

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Quitting smoking is important for cancer patients. Interventions, support and education are essential to encouraging every smoking cancer patient to quit right now. 

A recent study found multiple barriers to quitting for cancer patients and suggested methods to help lower those barriers.

Healthcare providers, family and social support, patient education and nicotine replacement therapy could help reduce smoking in cancer patients.

"Talk to your doctor about quitting ASAP."

Sonia A. Duffy, PhD, RN, from the Departments of Otolaryngology and Psychiatry, as well as the School of Nursing at the University of Michigan, led research on how best to help cancer patients quit smoking.

Authors said, “Cancer is the leading cause of death among men and women under the age of 85. Smoking is responsible for 30 percent of all cancer deaths and for 87 percent of lung cancer deaths.”

“Yet many cancer patients continue to smoke even though there is widespread awareness of the health risks associated with smoking.”

For the study, researchers reviewed studies and cases from 2010-2011 from Medline and PubMed concerning smoking cancer patients. Dr. Duffy’s team affirmed nicotine addiction, which gets reinforced through habitual behaviors even after the nicotine addiction is gone, was at the root of the problem.

Dr. Duffy’s team outlined some of the barriers between smoking cancer patients and quitting smoking:

  • Patient Education: lung cancer patients are usually aware of the link between smoking and lung cancer, but patients with other types of cancer, such as head and neck cancers, may not be aware of the same risks.
  • Smoking Cessation Services: around 50 percent of cancer patients declined to participate in smoking cessation programs. And smoking cessation services were not always offered or readily available to cancer patients.
  • Medicare now covers smoking cessation counseling for all patients as a preventive measure.
  • Social Support: 75 percent of smoking family members of cancer patients wanted to quit smoking, but 71 percent continued to smoke. They continued to expose their cancer patient relatives to secondhand smoke in the process. Friends and relatives need to be included in smoking cessation efforts and education.
  • Depression: rates of depression are as much as 5.8 times higher in cancer patients compared to the general population. Psychological stress and depression associated with fighting off cancer can contribute to continued smoking.
  • Healthy Lifestyle Choices: alcohol misuse to cope, sleep trouble from nicotine stimulation, poor diet and lack of exercise were all more common in cancer patients who continued to smoke.
  • Healthy lifestyle choices can help fight off cancer and go hand-in-hand with quitting smoking.
  • Physician Recommendation: only 56 percent of physicians told their patients with cancer to quit smoking. Researchers found no evidence those physicians offered smoking cessation intervention efforts other than verbal advice.
  • Need for Change: training and educating healthcare providers on assisting patients with smoking cessation services. The best time to approach smoking cessation with a patient was right after diagnosis.

Helping with habit changing was successful with follow-up calls from healthcare providers, take-home workbooks, videos, setting a quit date and nicotine replacement therapies like nicotine patches, gum and pharmaceuticals like bupropion and verenicline.

Authors concluded, “Cancer patients are personally, physically, and situationally vulnerable to smoking and efficacious interventions are available to assist cancer patients to quit.”

“To enhance quality of life and survival, there is a growing consensus about the obligation to provide state-of-the-art smoking cessation interventions for cancer patients.”

This study was published in November in Community Oncology. Funding was provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the US National Institutes of Health. No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 29, 2012
Last Updated:
December 4, 2012