Cancer patients can count on their JCC team for support giving up tobacco


Cancer patients can count on their JCC team for support giving up tobacco. Family members who smoke can help too by quitting or cutting back.

Dr. John Goffin, a Medical Oncologist at the Juravinski Cancer Centre (JCC), wants patients who use tobacco to know that it’s never too late to quit or cut back.

“Everyone from health care aides, to nurses, to physicians and pharmacists play a role in delivering this important message to patients and supporting them,” says Dr. Goffin, who treats lung cancer patients. “As they say, it takes a village.”

Dr. Goffin works alongside specialized oncology nurse Cheryl Reid.  “Sometimes Cheryl is taking the lead and sometimes I am encouraging a patient to quit.  We both believe in the benefits and try to reinforce each others’ message.”

Both are champions for JCC’s Tobacco Dependence Intervention Program, which follows the evidence-based Ask, Advise, Act approach for supporting new cancer patients who use tobacco. `Ask’ involves talking to cancer patients about tobacco use. `Advising’ is informing them about the many benefits of quitting. `Act’ is referring them to services such as the JCC Retail Pharmacy for medication that can help and Telehealth for support. To get telephone-based smoking cessation support, information, and advice, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, call Telehealth Ontario toll free at 1-866-797-0000 or toll-free TTY at 1-866-797-0007, or the number on your cigarette pack.

The JCC team gently raises the subject of quitting with new patients and their family members who smoke. “Some patients may feel that it’s too late to quit, or that the timing isn’t right because they’re already under enormous stress,” says Dr. Goffin. “But nicotine is a stimulant.  It does not relieve stress.”

Cheryl emphasized that family members play an important role.  “Family members are critical supports.  How can a patient quit smoking when a loved one is still smoking inside the house?”

Quitting is the best thing patients can do to help their cancer treatment work better, whether they’re having surgery, radiation treatment or chemotherapy. People who quit are less likely to have infections or complications during or after surgery. Quitting helps radiation therapy work better and may reduce side effects.  Quitting also helps chemotherapy drugs work better since cigarette smoke has chemicals that can lower the amount of some chemo drugs in the blood, making them less effective. Quitting also lowers the chance of a patient’s cancer coming back or getting another kind of cancer.

Dr. Goffin notes, “In some situations, the benefit of smoking cessation may even exceed the value of state-of-the-art cancer therapies.”

Tobacco use increases the risk of almost 20 different types of cancer and contributes to 30 percent of all cancer deaths and up to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths, says Cancer Care Ontario. One in five new cancer patients coming to an Ontario cancer centre are current or recent tobacco users.

Provincially, tobacco use continues to be the most common modifiable risk factor for cancer and other chronic diseases. Evidence suggests that the risk of dying could be lowered by 30 to 40 percent by quitting smoking at the time of diagnosis, says Cancer Care Ontario.

For more information on the benefits of quitting or cutting back, visit

Dr. John Goffin is a Medical Oncologist at the JCC and Associate Professor at McMaster University.