Help cancer patients live longer by offering smoking cessation support, GPs urged

GPs could help patients diagnosed with lung cancer double their life expectancy by encouraging them to quit smoking, research has shown.

Tobacco smoke may alter the behaviour of cancer cells or aid processes that support tumour development and progression. | iStock
Tobacco smoke may alter the behaviour of cancer cells or aid processes that support tumour development and progression. | iStock

Lung cancer survivors who quit smoking within a year of diagnosis live for nearly twice as long as those who continue to smoke, according to research led by the Universities of Oxford and Birmingham. However, the researchers also found that GPs are less likely to offer stop-smoking support to cancer patients than to people diagnosed with coronary heart disease.

'Never too late'

In a retrospective study involving 2882 patients with lung cancer who smoked at diagnosis, those who stopped smoking and survived their treatment lived for a median of 1.97 years, compared with 1.08 years for those who did not quit.

'This research indicates that it is never too late to quit smoking,' said lead author Dr Amanda Farley, lecturer at the University of Birmingham. 'Although many people think that the damage is done, our research shows that even after a diagnosis of lung cancer, people can still benefit from quitting.'

Low quit rates

In a second study, the researchers analysed the electronic primary care records of 12,393 smokers diagnosed with cancer between 1999 and 2013 and matched these with smokers diagnosed with coronary heart disease to compare the likelihood of GPs offering stop-smoking support.

The researchers found that GPs recorded smoking status for 37% of lung cancer patients compared with 78% of coronary heart disease patients, offered quitting advice to 24% of cancer patients versus 48% of coronary heart disease patients, and prescribed smoking cessation medication to 13% of cancer patients versus 22% of coronary heart disease patients.

In the year following diagnosis, 36.7% of all cancer patients had stopped smoking, compared with 44.4% of coronary heart disease patients.

'Our data from these two studies show that cancer patients receive less support to quit smoking from their GP than patients with coronary heart disease, and while absolute quit rates have improved over time they remain lower than they should be,' said lead author Professor Paul Aveyard, an Oxfordshire-based GP and Professor of Behavioural Medicine in Oxford University's Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences.

'While most lung cancer patients who smoke at diagnosis continue to smoke, those who quit in the first year after diagnosis are likely to live for longer and more comfortably after surviving their cancer treatment than those who continue to smoke.'

He added: 'Given this finding, cancer patients who smoke would clearly benefit if GPs became more actively involved in offering support to quit smoking as they do with other smoking-related illnesses. To make this a reality for people with cancer, we need research to understand and support GPs to provide the best support possible for patients with cancer to quit smoking.'

Want news like this straight to your inbox?
Sign up for our bulletins

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in