Why don’t many cancer patients quit smoking?

The statistics are startling. Somewhere between 50 to 83 percent of smokers diagnosed with cancer continue to smoke –despite studies that show smoking is the cause of 30 percent of all cancer deaths. For lung cancer, the number skyrockets to 87 percent of deaths. 

In a review paper published in the journal Community Oncology, “Why Do Cancer Patients Smoke and What Providers Do About It,” researchers examined the obstacles to cancer patients receiving and completing the treatment they need to quit, and provide recommendations for improving smoking interventions. 

“I think what surprised me when I did the review was the multitude of issues that cancer patients face, and that there are so many variables affecting why they don’t get treatment, and if they do get treatment, why they may not respond. Nicotine addiction, health issues, emotional issues, psychological issues and system level issues are all in the way,” [says Sonia Duffy, University of Michigan School of Nursing researcher].

The review also found that only 56 percent of family physicians encourage their cancer patients to quit. Among oncologists, who are already juggling the demands of cancer care, screening for tobacco use and finding appropriate referrals may slip through the cracks.

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 a Web-based outcomes system for the assessment and monitoring of psychosocial distress among cancer patients. The Polaris Oncology Distress Management System includes a brief screener for tobacco use. When the screen is positive, the patient’s tobacco usage and the associated potential risks are included in a tailored patient feedback report. The system also generates referrals for local and online smoking cessation programs based on the patient’s insurance and zip code. 

As a part of this trial, researchers are investigating the impact of the screener and automated referral on helping patients to quit. Prior Polaris research has shown that providing this type of information increases the number of patients who seek help for their addiction.

For more information, send an e-mail to moreinfo@polarishealth.com or visit /oncology.