As many as 33 percent of cancer survivors alive today in the U.S. are smokers. Many of them continue to smoke during and after cancer treatment, which not only puts them at risk for additional health problems, but also makes cancer treatments less effective.
To help patients quit, UR Medicine’s Wilmot Cancer Institute has established an outpatient smoking cessation program.
“It’s hard for people to quit smoking, and it’s hard for them to undertake treatments for a new disease at the same time,” said Geoffrey C. Williams, M.D., Ph.D., who is co-director of Wilmot’s smoking cessation program. “This kind of intervention is very important for providing the kinds of clinical support that’s needed for success in both sides of that treatment.”
Williams and oncologist Chunkit Fung, M.D., established the program, which will be available to all Wilmot patients. All patients will be screened for tobacco use at check-in for their oncology appointments. Those who say they use tobacco will be referred to the program, which is covered by most types of insurance. Patients can also request a referral to the program from their oncologist at any time during their treatment. Those receiving care at any Wilmot Cancer Institute office can participate in the program, which is based in Rochester.
Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of cancer. However, even once a smoker receives a cancer diagnosis, it’s still beneficial to quit because smoking can interfere with treatment and recovery.
“For these patients, they do worse if they continue to smoke even though they’re undergoing active chemotherapy. If they get surgery, if they get radiation, we know they have worse outcomes,” said Fung, co-director of the program. “Also, for cancer survivors, we know it can cause increased risk of cardiovascular disease, second cancers, recurrence of existing cancers, so that’s why we are doing this.”
Oncologists and other physicians have long recommended that cancer patients quit smoking or using tobacco. When smokers try quitting on their own without support, only about 4 percent to 7 percent succeed. Wilmot’s program is designed to improve that success rate by providing short-term and long-term strategies to help patients stop smoking and to prevent relapses.
Through the program, Williams and a nurse practitioner will work with patients to come up with an individualized plan that can combine counseling and medication. Over the course of six months, each patient will have about six to 10 smoking cessation program visits, which will correspond with their oncology appointments for convenience, Williams said.
This fall, Fung and Williams will re-launch an inpatient version of the program for patients hospitalized at the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center.
About Wilmot Cancer Institute: UR Medicine’s Wilmot Cancer Institute is the Finger Lakes region’s leader for cancer care and research. As a component of Strong Memorial Hospital, Wilmot Cancer Institute provides specialty cancer care services at the University of Rochester Medical Center and a network of locations throughout the region. The Institute also includes a team of 100 scientists who investigate many aspects of cancer, with an emphasis on how best to provide precision cancer care. To learn more, visit wilmot.urmc.edu.