Strategies to help patients quit smoking should start as soon as possible after diagnosis of cancer, when patients are most responsive, delegates were told at the European Society of Medical Oncology Congress today (19 October 2002). Dr Ian Olver, from the Royal Adelaide Hospital Cancer Centre, Australia, presented the results of a study of 384 people into the effectiveness of self-motivation techniques to encourage people to give up smoking, compared to simply telling them to stop.
Using this technique, patients are motivated to quit smoking through a series of telephone and personal counselling sessions, providing support for them and their families and offering them nicotine replacement therapy. "We want people to see the benefits for themselves," said Dr Olver. A control group was advised to stop using the standard anti-smoking information available.
"The results did not show a dramatic improvement in success in quitting smoking," said Dr Olver. The strategy that enables the counsellor to get to know the patient and why they smoke is labour-intensive and time-consuming but the team hoped it would yield better results. However, Dr Olver identified several significant factors that contributed to whether cancer patients would give up smoking. Those who did were more likely to have smoking-related cancer, such as lung, head and neck or bladder cancer. They would have made more attempts to quit in the previous 12 months and were less likely to have had radiotherapy or surgery.
"The results were surprising and somewhat disappointing," said Dr Olver. "However, we gained some valuable information that will help us develop new programmes to help people quit. Our findings stress the need to offer different strategies tailor-made to the individual, as far as possible," he said. It is important that quit programmes are implemented and maintained within the overall treatment regime. Healthcare providers need great sensitivity when discussing smoking with a patient and to understand the reason they smoke. For instance, if the patient smokes because they are stressed, the cause of the stress should be tackled.
Many patients believe that once they have been diagnosed with cancer, it is beyond the point at which giving up smoking can make any difference. "That is just not true. It is never too late to stop. Quitting smoking can improve your outcome, even after diagnosis," Dr Olver emphasised to patients.