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Cancer. 2006 Jan 1;106(1):17-27.

Successes and failures of the teachable moment: smoking cessation in cancer patients.

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Department of Behavioral Science, The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas 77230-1439, USA.



Successful cancer treatment can be significantly compromised by continued tobacco use. Because motivation and interest in smoking cessation increase after cancer diagnosis, a window of opportunity exists during which healthcare providers can intervene and assist in the quitting process.


The authors conducted a comprehensive literature review to discuss 1) the benefits of smoking cessation in cancer patients, 2) current knowledge regarding smoking cessation interventions targeted to cancer patients, and 3) treatment models and state-of the-art guidelines for intervention with cancer patients who smoke. The authors present clinical cases to illustrate the challenging nature of smoking cessation treatment for cancer patients.


Continued smoking after cancer diagnosis has substantial adverse effects on treatment effectiveness, overall survival, risk of second primary malignancies, and quality of life. Although some encouraging results have been demonstrated with smoking cessation interventions targeted to cancer patients, few empirical studies of such interventions have been conducted. A range of intervention components and state-of-the-art cessation guidelines are available that can be readily applied to cancer patients. Case illustrations highlight the crucial role of healthcare providers in promoting smoking cessation, the harmful impact of nicotine addiction manifested in delayed and failed reconstructive procedures, and unique problems encountered in treating patients who have particular difficulty quitting.


Despite the importance of stopping smoking for all cancer patients, the diagnosis of cancer is underused as a teachable moment for smoking cessation. More research is needed to empirically test cessation interventions for cancer patients, and attention must be given to complex and unique issues when tailoring cessation treatment to these individuals.

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