There’s a new push from cancer hospitals to help patients quit smoking. This is based on research evidence showing a gain of almost two additional years of life for those patients who stop smoking versus those who continue. In addition to an extended lifespan, those who stop have fewer side effects from their treatments, they heal more quickly, and their tumors have a lower chance of returning.
It is hard to quit smoking
Doctors, cancer centers and patients know it is hard to quit smoking. That is why new strategies are being developed to assist and encourage the change. Dr. Mahdi Sheikh led the study for the World Health Organization’s cancer research agency in Lyon, France said, “It is a huge effect.” Quitting smoking is “as necessary as the treatments” for lung cancer according to Dr. Sheikh.
An array of tools is available: certain medications, nicotine patches, and counseling by phone or in person. Instead of picking up a cigarette, cigar or pipe, alternative activities are suggested – a toothpick or mint in the mouth, a nutritious meal or snack instead of smoking. Since there are many hand movements associated with the act of smoking, perhaps a fidget gadget or hand lotion could distract from past habits. Move the cigarettes to a hard-to-reach place, gradually increasing the difficulty and keep fewer cigarettes available.
Many cancer centers offer these suggestions and more that help curb the urge to smoke. Additionally, patients are hearing directly from their cancer doctors the benefits of quitting at any stage of lung cancer. Find what tools work for you before a diagnosis shocks you into quitting.
In this latest study reported in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, “researchers followed 517 Russian lung cancer patients who smoked, checking annually to see whether they’d quit. After five years, nearly 60% of those who quit smoking were alive, compared to about 47% of those who continued smoking. The effect held up regardless of tumor stage, how much the patient smoked, or how long after diagnosis they quit.”
Currently, 53 cancer centers incorporate treatment for tobacco use into their care due to a $27 million National Cancer Institute program. Since 2018, over 50,000 patients have benefited from this program.
Director of the program, Dr. Ned Sharpless stated, “We’ve already learned a tremendous amount from this. With relatively modest support – these are not huge, expensive programs – you can markedly increase the number of patients you reach.”
What is next to help patients quit smoking?
Now it’s important to spread the knowledge and tools to clinics that are smaller or away from cities. All smokers, whether already diagnosed with lung cancer or on that pathway, need the knowledge that quitting works! It is not just a phrase that is repeated, it is a proven fact. If smokers don’t believe this and/or have a desire to quit, no tool will help.
Additional good news comes from the Stanford Cancer Institute. They reach out to patients through phone calls offering specialists support and medication to stop smoking. Judith Prochaska, director of the Stanford program, found that almost 1 in 4 patients who agree to quit smoking treatments are still tobacco free after two years. This is remarkable.
Diane Beneventi, director of the tobacco treatment program at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said, ”I wish every person who has cancer who smokes knew they stand to gain a great deal if they quit. It’s more important now than it’s ever been in their life.”
Do you have any signs of lung cancer?
If you do, early testing can mean an early diagnosis and better overall outlook. Talk to your doctor. It is likely testing costs are covered by private insurers with no cost-sharing by the patient. Read here about qualifications for this program.