If you are diagnosed with cancer and you smoke, that’s one more reason to stop, says UK doctor who co-chaired national survey

Smokers who have cancer have a better chance of overcoming the disease if they stop smoking, but not all cancer-treatment programs do a good job of encouraging patients to quit, according to a national quality improvement project led by the American College of Surgeons.
“The results, published in JCO Oncology Practice, represent one of the largest national surveys examining the quality of tobacco treatment in cancer care in a wide range of clinical oncology settings, including academic facilities and community cancer programs,” says a news release about the study.

Timothy Mullett, M.D.

“While many people understand the role of tobacco in terms of causing cancer, they may not understand the impact that tobacco use has when patients are being treated for cancer,” said Dr. Timothy Mullett, medical director of the Markey Cancer Center Network at the University of Kentucky, chair of the surgeons’ college Commission on Cancer and co-author of the study.
“Many providers may not think about tobacco cessation in terms of treatment,” Mullett said in the release. “But just like there are effective treatments for high blood pressure or thyroid disease, there are effective treatments for tobacco use. That’s the disconnect we’re trying to highlight in this study.”
Mullett said persistent smoking among patients diagnosed with cancer is associated with many treatment-related complications, including recurrence of the cancer, premature death, and increased treatment costs, Despite these risk factors, polls suggest that nearly 25% of new patients with cancer are smokers, and of the estimated 18 million cancer survivors in the U.S., 16% report they smoke. Many patients report wanting to quit, but fewer than 10% are successful.

The survey by leaders of the surgeons’ group found that only 42% of the cancer-treatment programs reported documenting a smoking-cessation treatment plan, 41% reported regularly assisting patients with quitting , providing self-help information (27%), individual counseling (18.2%), and referring patients to an affiliated tobacco treatment program (26%). Only 18% reported regularly prescribing medications for smoking cessation.
“We showed that incorporating tobacco treatment into cancer treatment is feasible and that it can be done in large and small programs,” Mullett said. “Incorporating resources and referrals on tobacco treatment into cancer care requires training and time. Both of those are hard to find in a busy cancer practice, but we need information like this to be recognized by facilities so they can put resources into tobacco treatment and help connect patients with effective resources on tobacco cessation.”

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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