Many lung cancer patients who smoke will pick up the habit again after treatment, usually within the first two months after surgery, a new study shows.
However, the longer the patients can hold off after surgery before smoking again, the more likely they are to be completely abstinent from cigarettes by 12 months after the operation, Dr. Mark S. Walker of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and colleagues found.
Doctors need to take a much more active role in helping these patients to quit smoking, Walker told Reuters Health. “The provider should not assume that this serious health scare is going to ensure that their patient quits smoking, because there’s a really good chance their patients won’t,” he said. “The provider needs to do something more than say, ‘you know you ought to quit smoking.’”
Walker and his colleagues looked at 154 patients with early-stage lung cancer, all of whom had continued smoking for up to three months before they underwent surgery.
During the year after surgery, 43 percent of the patients smoked at some point. By 12 months, 37 percent were still smoking, the team reports in the medical journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention.
The longer the amount of time the patient had been able to quit before surgery, the longer he or she was able to abstain afterwards, the researchers found.
There are a number of effective approaches available to help people stop smoking, from counseling to nicotine replacement to the prescription medications Zyban and Chantix, Walker noted. However, he added, most people will try to quit on their own, without taking advantage of these resources.
“I’ve had patients tell me they stubbed out their last cigarette in the hospital parking lot,” Walker said. “Essentially that behavior is saying that they feel unable to quit.”
Most people with smoking-related diseases very much want to quit, he added, and have tried to do so. “This is a very tough addiction and I think that we need to stop stigmatizing people who have smoking-related-diseases,” he said. “We need to quit blaming these folks.”
SOURCE: Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, December 2006.
Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD