Polaris Oncology System Encourages Smokers to Quit

Screening cancer patients for tobacco use, and offering referrals for tobacco cessation programs may enhance the cancer treatment process. For smokers diagnosed with cancer, dropping the habit may help improve the body’s ability to heal and respond to treatment, such as from surgery or chemotherapy, and lower the risk for pneumonia and respiratory failure. Quitting may also lessen the likelihood of the cancer returning or another cancer emerging, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Yet a surprising number of cancer patients continue to smoke. Polaris Health Directions, in collaboration with the University of Massachusetts Medical School, MD Anderson Cancer Center and Cooper University Hospital, has been conducting an ongoing randomized clinical trial to determine the effectiveness of using an online outcomes assessment system, the Polaris Oncology Distress Management System, to screen for and monitor psychosocial distress among cancer patients. The trial is supported with funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Embedded in the system are a brief screener for tobacco use and a referral generator for those patients who would benefit from smoking cessation services. Of the 836 patients enrolled in the trial, 45 percent had used tobacco on a regular basis at some point in their life and 10 percent reported having used tobacco on at least one day in the past 30 days. Seven percent admitted to using tobacco on 27 to 30 days of the last 30 days; 13 percent received a recommendation from their physician to quit.

Patients who report continued tobacco dependence are given a tailored feedback report describing their tobacco usage and the potential risks. Patients are also given referrals to local and online resources to help them quit. Polaris researchers are contacting these patients to determine how many acted on the referrals and/or quit. Prior Polaris research has shown that providing this type of information increases the number of patients who seek help for their addiction.

Polaris Oncology supports health care professionals by screening and monitoring for depression, anxiety and other mental health symptomology; risky drinking and smoking; cancer-related physical symptoms and side effects; and other areas of psychosocial distress. The system helps cancer centers meet the new 2012 Commission on Cancer accreditation requirements for evaluating all patients for psychosocial distress.

For more information on the current clinical trial or on the Polaris Oncology Distress Management System, send an e-mail to moreinfo@polarishealth.com.


The project described was supported by Award Number 5R42MH78432-4 from the National Institute for Mental Health. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute for Mental Health or the National Institutes of Health.