Quitting smoking can be a tough row to hoe – but it’s worth it


Cutting back also has health benefits and can be the first step toward quitting

As a kid growing up in America’s Midwest, Dr. Rosalyn Juergens remembers years of urging her farmer dad to quit smoking. “Smoking was extremely common in the farming community,” recalled Dr. Juergens. “I even gave a speech about smoking cessation at school when I was 12.  I shared the health risks and pointed out that my dad could save enough money by quitting to buy me a cherry red convertible when I turned 16!”

While the idea of splurging on a sports car for his teenage daughter didn’t provide the necessary incentive, being around in his golden years to enjoy his children and grandchildren did. Dr. Juergens’ dad smoked his last cigarette almost 20 years ago, when she was in medical school.

Now a medical oncologist at the Juravinski Cancer Centre (JCC), Dr. Juergens shares her message about the health benefits of quitting with her lung, esophageal and stomach cancer patients. She’s a champion for JCC’s Tobacco Dependence Intervention (TDI) Program which follows the evidence-based Ask, Advise, Act approach for supporting new cancer patients who use tobacco. `Ask’ involves talking to 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.

Quitting is the best thing cancer patients can do to help their 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. In some situations, the benefit of quitting may even exceed the value of state-of-the-art cancer therapies.

For patients not ready to give it up, cutting back also has benefits and can be the first step towards eventually quitting, says Dr. Juergens. JCC staff take a team approach, with everyone from health care aides, to nurses, to physicians and pharmacists offering patients support and assistance with smoking cessation.

“We want patients to know that it’s never too late to quit or cut back,” says Dr. Juergens. “Our team genuinely cares about their health and we’re here to help.”

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. What’s less known is that cutting back or quitting can help cancer patients with their treatment and recovery. 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 hnhbscreenforlife.ca.

Dr. Rosalyn Juergens is a medical oncologist at the JCC. She is head of the Department of Clinical Trials and Chair of the Lung Disease Site Team serving community cancer centres in the Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant LHIN. Dr. Juergens is an Associate Professor at McMaster University and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.