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Study: Medicines, frequent counseling helps cancer patients quit smoking

Smoking cessation is a key part of cancer care, and new research shows that a combination of medication and therapy can help more people quit lighting up. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel
Smoking cessation is a key part of cancer care, and new research shows that a combination of medication and therapy can help more people quit lighting up. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

Oct. 13 (UPI) -- A program that included telephone counseling sessions and one of two smoking cessation drugs was 50% more effective than telephone consultations alone at helping cancer patients quit smoking, a study published Tuesday by JAMA found.

Among cancer patients who underwent treatment with four bi-weekly and three monthly counseling sessions by telephone and either bupropion, marketed as Wellbutrin, or varenicline, marketed as Chantix, for up to six months, 35% were able to successfully quit smoking, the data showed.

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But only 22% of the cancer patients who underwent treatment with the telephone counseling sessions had successfully quit after six months, according to the researchers.

"Counseling plus medication is the state-of-the art tobacco treatment for cancer patients," study co-author Elyse R. Park told UPI.

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"Smoking cessation assistance should be an integral part of cancer care and sustained tobacco support can be effective for cancer patients who smoke," said Park, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

More than 34 million adults in the United States smoke, and some 16 million are living with smoking-related diseases, including cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Up to 20% of cancer survivors continue to smoke, despite the fact that quitting improves prognosis with the disease, research suggests.

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For their study, Park and her colleagues evaluated smoking cessation treatment programs in 303 adults recently diagnosed with breast, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, gynecological, head and neck, lung, lymphoma or melanoma cancers.

Roughly half -- 153 -- underwent "intensive" treatment for smoking, with telephone counseling and their choice of bupropion or varenicline, with the rest receiving "standard" care, with telephone counseling only, for up to six months, the researchers said.

Both bupropion and varenicline have been approved for smoking cessation treatment by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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The most common adverse events in the two treatment groups were nausea, rash, hiccups, mouth irritation, difficulty sleeping and vivid dreams, and all were more common in the patients who received "intensive" care, the researchers said.

"Nausea is a side effect of varenicline, so [its use] should be monitored for patients who are experiencing nausea from their cancer treatment," Park said.

In addition, patients on tamoxifen for breast cancer should not take bupropion, or receive a reduced dose, because of interactions between the two drugs, she said.

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