Around 1 in 5 people diagnosed with cancer in the UK take part in a clinical trial.
A study to find out what people with cancer think about smoking
This study looked at what three different groups of people thought about smoking and what their experience had been with stopping smoking (cessation).
More about this trial
A diagnosis of cancer can be very difficult not only for the person but also for their family and friends.
We know that some people continue to smoke after a diagnosis of cancer and others don’t. The researchers wanted to understand more about why people decided to stop smoking or not. And what made it difficult to talk about smoking with family, friends and health professionals.
They interviewed smokers and ex-smokers who had cancer and their close relatives or friends who also smoked, or who had stopped smoking recently. They also interviewed health professionals who worked with people with cancer.
The aim of this study was to find out what it was like for people who had cancer and smoked. And to use these findings to help design more effective ways of supporting people to stop smoking before, during and after cancer treatment.
Summary of results
The team found that existing support to stop smoking needs to be improved and it should be coordinated throughout the person’s cancer journey.
The study team interviewed:
- 29 people with cancer who were still smoking or had recently stopped
- 14 family members who were still smoking or had recently stopped
- 24 health professionals such as family doctors (GPs) and doctors or nurses who worked in cancer or stop smoking services
The team found that most people with cancer and their family members who stopped smoking did so without the help of NHS stop smoking services. Some felt it was too difficult to fit in stop smoking services with appointments for cancer treatment and follow up or that these services weren’t relevant to them. Some people used e-cigarettes to stop smoking.
The reasons given for continuing to smoke were:
- the emotional stress of a cancer diagnosis and treatment
- not wanting to be pressured to stop
- the feeling the addiction was too strong
- not linking smoking to their cancer diagnosis or treatment outcomes
People generally expected the issue of smoking to be discussed by the healthcare staff but this didn’t always happen. They said they would be more likely to use services to stop smoking if it was available in the hospital alongside the cancer services.
Some doctors and nurses felt that talking about smoking could affect their relationship with their patients and their family. They didn’t want people to feel guilty or feel that they were being judged.
Many of the health staff weren’t up to date on stop smoking methods and services available.
The study team concluded that services already in place to help people to stop smoking can be improved. So that they are more tailored to people with cancer. And more effort is needed to involve their family members and consider their points of view.
They also said the information and advice given must be more detailed. The methods used shouldn’t appear to be critical or negative. The focus should be on the future health benefits that stopping smoking would bring.
Doctors and nurses need to be more confident and well informed so they can talk to their patients about stopping smoking.
So it is important that information and support for stopping smoking should be part of every patient’s care. And that health care professionals should have training to be able to provide this. Also having the services available to help people to stop smoking alongside the cancer services would be helpful.
We have based this summary on information from the research team. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (
How to join a clinical trial
Professor Mary Wells
Chief Scientist Office (CSO)
NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer
University of Stirling