January 23rd, 2012
12:05 AM ET

Some cancer patients continue to smoke after diagnosis

Doctors say smoking is such an addictive habit that many people still light up, even when they're seriously ill. Now a new study finds even cancer patients rely on tobacco to get them through the day, and that's not good.

According to new data, published in the online version of the journal CANCER, researchers have found a large number of colon and lung cancer patients did not give up smoking, even though they knew it was not good for them.

According to physicians, giving up tobacco is crucial after a cancer diagnosis because smoking can hinder treatment results.

Investigators looked at smoking rates in approximately 5,300 lung and colorectal cancer patents. At the time of their diagnosis, 39% of lung cancer patients and 14% of the colon cancer patients smoked. Looking at the same patients five months later, researchers found 14% of lung cancer patients and 9% of colon cancer patients were still smoking.

Doctors noted lung cancer patients who still lit up after a diagnosis were usually on Medicare, had had very little treatment for their condition and were heavy smokers before their diagnosis.

Those with colon cancer who continued to smoke, tended to be uninsured, under- educated males. They also were heavy smokers before treatment.

By using this data, researchers hope they can guide oncologists to identify continuous smokers, so doctors can help patients stay smoke free.

“These findings can help cancer clinicians identify patients who are at risk for smoking and guide tobacco counseling treatment development for cancer patients,” said Dr. Elyse R. Park, of the Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School in Boston, who headed up the research.

In an accompanying editorial in the online journal, Dr. Carolyn Dressler, of the Arkansas Department of Health in Little Rock, noted the importance of physicians and other caretakers to address tobacco cessation, especially when cancer patients are diagnosed.

“Most clinicians acknowledge the importance of addressing tobacco cessation in their patients; however, few do it,” Dressler wrote. “We know enough now to implement effective cessation programs to identify and help cancer patients quit at the time of diagnosis and support them to prevent relapse. By doing so, we maximize patients’ response to therapy, their quality of life, and their longevity."

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.