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When cancer patients can't stop smoking


If you've ever stood outside a hospital, you've probably seen at least one patient sucking down a cigarette while in a wheelchair or hooked up to an IV.

Doctors and medical professionals can't stop it: Sick patients--even those with cancer--continue a habit that's killing them. But why?

When addiction meets cancer

Addiction is complex and multifaceted disease, so there's not an easy answer. But for cancer patients, it appears the situation is even more complicated. A recent review paper that was published in the journal Community Oncology found that there are several factors involved that will keep a cancer patient smoking up until their last breath.

"Ours is the first comprehensive review study to examine reasons why the very cause of the cancer, namely smoking, in many cases isn't treated," said Sonia Duffy, University of Michigan School of Nursing researcher.

According to Duffy, the problems a cancer patient faces are many: nicotine addiction, emotional issues, depression and health problems are just a few. Moreover, her review found that cancer patients often don't have access to smoking intervention programs and they lack a basic support system that could help them recover from the addiction. Between physically and emotionally difficult chemotherapy sessions and dealing with the daily obstacles of having cancer, Duffy says many patients also don't have the time or energy to go to 12-step meetings or smoking-cessation programs.

"I think what surprised me when I did the review was the multitude of issues that cancer patients face, and that there are so many variables affecting why they don't get treatment, and if they do get treatment, why they may not respond," Duffy said.

The depression factor

Another problem for cancer patients? Depression. According to Duffy, this can be a big obstacle to quitting smoking. About 58 percent of cancer patients battle with depression, as opposed to 10 percent in the general population.

The review also found that not enough doctors are encouraging their cancer patients to quit smoking. Duffy says that nurse-administered smoking interventions might be a better approach, as nurses tend to be more involved in the overall care of the patient than an oncologist, whose main focus is treating the cancer.

Duffy hopes to focus future efforts on developing smoking-cessation programs that nurses can make available to cancer patients.

Source: Science Daily