You Can’t Quit Too Soon

Smoking relapse rates after cancer surgery still too high

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

(RxWiki News) There’s no time like the present to quit smoking. The longer a person waits to quit, the greater the health risks and the harder it is to quit, especially for cancer patients.

A recent study looked at smoking relapse rates one year after head and neck and lung cancer surgery in a group of patients. Researchers found that patients who quit more than one week before surgery were more likely to remain smoke-free even one year later.

“Cancer patients are highly motivated to quit, so receiving a cancer diagnosis can be viewed as a ‘teachable moment’ for delivering smoking cessation and relapse prevention interventions,” said study co-author, Thomas Brandon, PhD.

"Don’t delay, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW."

Vani Nath Simmons, PhD, assistant member of the Health Outcomes and Behavior Program, and Thomas H. Brandon, PhD, director of the Tobacco Research and Intervention Program, at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, FL, worked together to investigate the effects of quitting smoking before cancer surgery.

Dr. Simmons said, “Cigarette smoking is responsible for 30 percent of all cancer-related mortalities. Head and neck and lung cancers are the most strongly linked to tobacco use.”

For the study, 154 head and neck and lung cancer patients who had recently quit smoking were followed for one year after cancer-related surgery. Each patient was evaluated for smoking habits at 2, 4, 6 and 12 months after surgery. A total of 101 patients were still smoking during the week before surgery.

Researchers found the rates of returning to smoking or maintaining abstinence were linked to how long the patient had been smoke-free before surgery. At the 12-month post surgery interview, 60 percent of patients who had smoked into the week before the surgery had relapsed back into smoking.

At the 12-month post surgery interview, only 13 percent of patients who had quit smoking for longer than the week before surgery had returned to smoking.

Predictors of relapse in the group that didn’t quit until surgery included:

  • Patient’s lack of belief in his or her ability to quit
  • Being more prone to depression
  • Having greater fears about cancer coming back

Predictors of relapse in the group that quit more than a week before surgery included:

  • Patient’s belief that quitting would be too hard
  • Patient’s belief that the risk of smoking was not very related to cancer

Dr. Simmons said, “Many patients with these cancers make an attempt to quit smoking at the time of diagnosis…This is particularly a concern for cancer patients because continued smoking can be related to cancer recurrence, cancer treatment complications, second primary tumors and poorer quality of life.”

The authors recommended that healthcare professionals offer smoking cessation help at the time of cancer diagnosis and further smoking relapse-prevention efforts right after surgery when the risk to return to smoking is high.

Smoking cessation at the time of cancer diagnosis is important for the best possible treatment outcomes.

This study was published in December in Cancer.

The National Cancer Institute and the Miles for Moffitt Foundation provided funding for this study. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 25, 2013
Last Updated:
January 28, 2013