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VCU Massey Cancer Center


Tobacco cessation program at Massey developed especially for cancer patients

VCU Massey Cancer Center developed and is implementing and evaluating a tobacco cessation program called ICAN (Initiative to Conquer the Addiction to Nicotine) Quit that aims to assess and document the tobacco use of every Massey cancer patient, advise patients on the benefits of quitting and connect patients to evidenced-based resources to help them become tobacco-free.

The program is supported by a supplement that Massey received in 2018 to its Cancer Center Support Grant from the National Cancer Institute totaling nearly $500,000 over two years. The supplement was provided through the NCI’s Cancer Center Cessation Initiative as part of the NCI Cancer Moonshot℠ program. The NCI Cancer Center Cessation Initiative is a national effort to help people who are undergoing treatment for cancer to quit smoking. It was developed to address the fact that tobacco cessation support is infrequently provided to patients as part of their cancer care despite evidence showing that continued smoking after a cancer diagnosis leads to poorer patient outcomes. The initiative is designed to use implementation science to jump-start smoking cessation treatment at NCI-designated cancer centers, with findings used to develop best practices and shared with clinical cancer facilities nationwide.

Darlene Brunzell, Ph.D., co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control research program at Massey and associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the VCU School of Medicine, and Rashelle Hayes, Ph.D., M.S., member of Massey’s Cancer Prevention and Control program and associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the VCU School of Medicine, will lead the program with collaborations from investigators in the VCU Departments of Health Behavior and Policy, Psychiatry, Psychology and Biostatistics.

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“Quitting smoking has positive health effects for everyone, and there are so many benefits to quitting smoking for cancer patients,” said the ICAN Quit program’s co-principal investigator Brunzell. “Quitting smoking can improve the likelihood that a cancer patient’s treatment is successful, help them recover from treatment faster, lessen the side effects from treatment, potentially lengthen their survival and lower the risk of their cancer returning and the development of new cancers.”

Through ICAN Quit, Massey nurses and nurse navigators screen and triage cancer patients for tobacco use. Patients and their family household smokers or tobacco users are referred to call the Virginia Quitline, receive cessation treatment resources and medications, and/or are referred to certified tobacco treatment specialists or other counselors and clinicians trained in tobacco treatment at VCU Health. Follow-up telephone calls are made at one, three and six months after referral. Tobacco cessation print materials are distributed with messaging targeted to patients newly diagnosed with cancer, to cancer survivors and to patients who are at increased risk of dying from cancer. 

To support these efforts, ICAN Quit modified Massey’s electronic medical record prompts to screen current/former tobacco users. ICAN Quit also routinely trains medical providers and clinical staff to ensure consistent and reliable assessment of tobacco use for every patient. Additionally, the program targets treatment to Massey’s unique population and aims to increase the number of certified tobacco treatment specialists who can provide evidence-based treatment. Finally, to help connect patients to evidenced-based therapies, Massey subsidizes tobacco cessation medications for its patients through the Oncology Pharmacy on a rolling basis, with social workers researching resources that may provide free/discounted medications.

“It’s never too late to quit using tobacco, even after a cancer diagnosis,” said the ICAN Quit program’s co-principal investigator Hayes. “Quitting can be hard, but the ICAN Quit program can help.”

Brunzell and Hayes will continually evaluate the program’s implementation by measuring the percentage of patients who receive tobacco screening and the percentage of providers who refer tobacco users to evidenced-based tobacco treatment. They will also evaluate population statistics for measures of tobacco use assessment and treatment on a quarterly basis and coordinate interviews with Massey medical staff to address any barriers.

For more information about the ICAN Quit program and how to quit tobacco use, visit Email to get help with quitting from ICAN Quit.

Written by: Jenny Owen

Posted on: May 28, 2020