A new study has found that a substantial number of cancer patients—and their family members and caregivers—continue to smoke even after a cancer diagnosis. The findings have been published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

For the study, the researchers built on prior research by utilizing a large sample of 742 cancer patients and caregivers recruited from multiple sites across the country that included patients with lung cancer—a cancer strongly associated with smoking—and colorectal cancer—a cancer that is not strongly associated with smoking.

The researchers found that 18% of lung cancer patients continue to smoke after their diagnosis, while 12% of colorectal cancer patients continue smoking.

Kathryn E. Weaver, PhD, MPH, the study’s lead author and assistant professor in the social sciences and health policy department at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said that while the results were concerning, they were not necessarily surprising.

“Smoking is a very addictive behavior and it can be difficult to quit smoking. Many of our cancer patients do want to quit smoking and have tried many times in the past, but have been unsuccessful,” she said.

The study also found that among cancer patients’ family members, who provide a lot of informal care and support for that patient, an even higher proportion of family caregivers were smoking—25% for lung cancer and 20% for colorectal cancer.

While seeing the challenges a loved one with cancer is experiencing may make family members really think they need to quit smoking, the disease creates a very stressful period of time for everyone involved and the added stress may make it a difficult time to quit, according to Weaver.

“What’s important about this study is that a cancer diagnosis may be a teachable moment about smoking cessation for both patients and their family members,” said Weaver. “Physicians need to be aware that a substantial number of their patients do continue to smoke after receiving a cancer diagnosis, but they should be offered every encouragement and resource to quit.”

Source: Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center