Want to Quit Smoking? There's Help at UNC

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - When Priscilla Williams was diagnosed with bladder cancer, her first question for her oncologist was: “What do we do about getting rid of this cancer?” Her physicians and nurses are working very hard to provide the best treatment with chemotherapy and surgery. And, with the help of the N.C. Cancer Hospital Nicotine Dependence Program, Ms. Williams is doing her part by quitting smoking.

Becoming tobacco-free is one of the most important things cancer patients can do to improve their health. People tend to be familiar with the link between smoking and lung cancer. However, many patients may not know that smoking causes 30% of all cancer deaths and has been associated with many different kinds of cancer including bladder, cervical, esophageal, kidney, laryngeal, lung, oral, pancreatic, stomach, and colorectal cancer as well as leukemia. Continuing to smoke can interfere with cancer treatment and recovery, causing delayed healing and increasing risk of infections and complications. By quitting all tobacco use, patients can improve their health, reduce their chances of getting cancer again, protect loved ones from secondhand smoke, and save money.

While many patients want to quit, some find it very difficult to do this on their own. The combination of cessation medication and counseling is the most effective treatment and cancer patients who receive treatment within three months of diagnosis have higher quit rates. With pilot year funding from the University Cancer Research Fund, the N.C. Cancer Hospital Nicotine Dependence Program (NCCH NDP) began providing on-site tobacco use treatment for N.C. Cancer Hospital patients in March 2009. As of December 1, 2010, the program has logged more than 200 referrals and nearly 1,000 patient contacts. The program is directed by Dr. Adam Goldstein, a nationally recognized expert in the field of tobacco use treatment and research, and staffed by certified tobacco treatment specialists and pharmacists.

The NCCH NDP provides evidence-based treatment to help patients achieve their goal of becoming tobacco free. During the first appointment, program participants work with their tobacco treatment specialist to make a quit plan. The plan may include medicines to help with quitting, discussion of triggers and strategies to cope with them, suggestions for changing thoughts and behaviors related to tobacco use, and additional resources such as the NC Quitline fax referral. Participants then receive regular follow-up in person or by phone to support them through their quitting process.

According to NCCH NDP Program Manager Katie Patsakham, “Cancer treatment provides a unique opportunity for patients who use tobacco. They are being counseled by their physicians about the importance of quitting. They spend a significant amount of time in medical facilities that are tobacco-free. Most importantly, the fact that they are coming to the NCCH on a regular basis provides us with many opportunities to develop relationships, problem solve, and provide encouragement. Many patients have tried to quit before but they have not experienced the level of service we can provide. “

NCCH providers and patients are fortunate in that very few cancer centers across the nation provide this level of expertise in helping patients overcome nicotine addiction. More than 80 clinicians and staff members have been involved with the program so far. In a recent survey, providers were overwhelmingly enthusiastic when asked about ease of patient referral, quality of services, and their overall satisfaction with the program. According to Dr. Mark Weissler, Chief of the Division of Head and Neck Surgery, "Tobacco abuse is a major cause of head and neck cancer.  Our patients struggle with their addiction and many continue to use tobacco products even after the development of a head and neck cancer.  The Nicotine Dependence Program has been a real boon to our practice and a real help to our patients in their fight against this deadly addiction.”

It’s never too late to quit. For more information about the program, please email Katie Patsakham An icon indicating that a link will launch an email program. or call her at 919-445-5358.