TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) -About 43 percent of patients who took the smoking cessation medication varenicline significantly increased their chances of quitting smoking, according to research published Thursday in the Psycho-Oncology.
"With the stress cancer patients are under, they tend to be at higher risk of relapsing for a longer period of time," senior author Brian Hitsman, associate professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and study author, said in a news release. "So we thought providing treatment for longer would be more effective."
The 24-week study was the first to test the effect of varenicline, known on the consumer market as Chantix, on smokers with and without cancer. A prior study focused on the medication's impact on cancer patients.
For the study, researchers opted for 40 percent of participants to actively have cancer and the other 60 percent have been treated for cancer in the last five years.
Each group received behavioral therapy to compliment the varenicline treatments. It included attending counseling sessions to set quit dates, learning coping skills and managing withdrawal symptoms.
"While the behavioral therapy wasn't the focus of this study, we will need to study this part more closely because it can be a very powerful tool for cancer patients to quit smoking," Hitsman said. "You can imagine how someone going through a severe or significant disease and treatment process could benefit from the support we provided in this study."
Even with its downsides, varenicline showed positive results throughout the study, prompting researchers to promote the drug for wider use.
"We hear from cancer patients and oncologists that varenicline may cause serious side effects or that managing the stress of the disease makes addressing tobacco use among patients inappropriate," said Robert Schnoll, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry and associate director for population science at the Abramson Cancer Center. "But the results from this study show that this leading FDA-approved medication is effective for cancer patients, doesn't increase patient risk and yields increased benefits for those who take the medication as prescribed."
"We need now to focus on how we can get more patients who smoke to use the medication and use it sufficiently if we are to see broader population-level gains," Schnoll said.