Lung cancer screening motivates smokers to quit

Lung cancer screening could be the impetus to help some cigarette smokers quit, according to a Mayo Clinic study to be published in the Dec. 1, 2003, issue of the journal Cancer.

One year after undergoing lung cancer screening, 14 percent of smokers in the study had stopped smoking. “That quit rate is double what we would expect to see in a community sample of smokers,” says Matthew Clark, Ph.D., Mayo Clinic clinical psychologist and a lead investigator in the study.

Participants did not receive counseling or treatment to encourage smoking cessation.

“Our results indicate that people who participated in cancer screening were motivated to quit smoking. Cancer screening may present a ’teachable moment,’” says Dr. Clark. “If health-care providers did offer smoking cessation resources, perhaps even more smokers would have quit after undergoing cancer screening.”

Researchers looked for evidence of lung cancer using a low-dose fast spiral computerized tomography (CT) scan, an X-ray technique that produces more detailed images than conventional X-ray studies. Participants also were evaluated for lung function and damage related to smoking. Participants included 901 smokers and 574 former smokers, all age 50 or older, and all considered at high risk for lung cancer.

Results also indicated that former smokers might benefit from cessation counseling at the time of lung cancer screening.

About 10 percent of the former smokers in the study had resumed smoking one year after CT screening. Those at highest risk for relapse were those who had quit most recently. “People in this group could perhaps avoid relapse if we provided support for their continued abstinence from smoking during cancer screening,” says Dr. Clark.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women. Yet lung cancer is among the most preventable cancers because smoking accounts for about 85 to 90 percent of lung cancer cases.

Researchers also found:

  • Smokers with poorer lung function were more likely to stop smoking after the screening. This suggests that direct feedback about the patient’s lung functioning may promote smoking cessation.
  • There was no evidence the screening provided a “green light” for continued smoking. Participants with scans that showed no signs of cancer quit smoking at the about the same rate as those who had abnormal scans that required follow-up testing.

The American Cancer Society doesn’t recommend routine screenings for lung cancer, even among high-risk individuals. While screenings offer promise, studies haven’t proven that they decrease the number of deaths from lung cancer, says James Jett, M.D., a Mayo Clinic pulmonary medicine specialist and an investigator in the study.

Mayo Clinic seeks patients for lung cancer screening study

Research to develop more effective lung cancer screening is ongoing. Mayo Clinic and other health-care centers across the country are recruiting patients for a study that compares the effectiveness of CT scans and chest X-rays to screen for lung cancer. Individuals interested in participating can call 888-885-7503.

Participants need to be between ages 55 and 74, smokers or former smokers and have no history of cancer. Smokers do not need to stop smoking to participate in this study.

Shelly Plutowski 507-284-5005 (days) 507-284-2511 (evenings) e-mail: newsbureau@mayo.edu

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Shelly Plutowski EurekAlert!

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