New England Journal of Medicine: Only Half of Cancer Patients Who Smoke Get Help to Quit; NCI Aims to Fix It

A doctor speaks with an oncology patientWhile many smokers make New Year’s resolutions to quit smoking, only about half of cancer patients who smoke are offered help to quit by their oncology teams. That’s a lost opportunity, wrote experts in a new commentary today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Research shows quitting smoking after a cancer diagnosis is associated with longer survival and a reduced risk of new cancers. “The evidence is clear,” the authors wrote, that we have a tremendous opportunity “to improve the effectiveness of cancer treatment and avert future cancers.”

A 2009 survey of 58 cancer centers in America designated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) revealed that 21 percent offered no tobacco-use treatment services, 38 percent didn’t provide brochures on how to quit smoking, only half reported having systems in place to even identify which of their patients use tobacco, and less than half reported having either a staff person dedicated to providing tobacco-treatment services or a commitment from center leadership to provide such services.

To address this critical need, NCI has launched a nationwide Cancer Center Cessation Initiative (C3I) as part of the Cancer MoonshotSM.

NCI has funded 42 cancer centers at $250,000 a year for two years to jumpstart the delivery of smoking-cessation treatment. For example, grantees work to improve rates of system-wide assessment of tobacco use, encourage quitting, and incorporate tobacco treatment into electronic medical records.

Each funded center is required to have a plan to support its program after C3I funding ends to ensure that programs are sustainable. One possible collateral benefit of C3I is that the findings from this effort may be used to enhance smoking-cessation treatment in other medical specialties and patient populations, such as people with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

C3I will share findings with cancer facilities nationwide. The ultimate goal is to ensure that all patients with cancer who smoke are provided coaching and medication to quit in conjunction with their cancer care.

The New England Journal of Medicine commentary was written by Dr. Robert Croyle and Dr. Glen Morgan of NCI as well as UW-CTRI Director Dr. Michael Fiore.

Established by Congress in 2016 as part of the 21st Century Cures Act, the Cancer Moonshot is designed to accelerate cancer research to make more therapies available to more patients, while also improving our ability to prevent cancer and detect it at an early stage. In part, the Moonshot was inspired by Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer in 2015 and is the son of former Vice President Joe Biden.

The University of Wisconsin serves as the national coordinating center for C3I, under the direction of Principal Investigator Dr. Betsy Rolland. To watch a video on C3I, visit