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Smoking cessation program offers childhood cancer survivors help to quit the habit


Quit Line Counselors

Memphis, Tennessee, November 16, 2009


As health advocates gear up for this year’s Great American Smokeout, childhood cancer survivors who need help with smoking cessation can receive free counseling and nicotine replacement therapy from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

As smokers nationwide struggle to quit the habit, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is offering assistance to those childhood cancer survivors who need help with smoking cessation.

Despite the known health risks of tobacco use, about 18 percent of adults who survived childhood cancer are smokers—an average almost equal to that of the general population. Childhood cancer survivors are more likely to develop second cancers and other conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Smoking adds to their health risks.

“The increase in survival rates for childhood cancer has been one of the most significant successes in cancer during the past three decades,” said Robert Klesges, Ph.D., of the St. Jude Epidemiology and Cancer Control department. “However, few researchers have addressed the issue of smoking in cancer survivors. Because the population of childhood cancer survivors is growing each year, St. Jude sought an effective way to help these individuals.”

In recent years, smoking prevention and cessation efforts in the United States have included public smoking bans, the establishment of toll-free quit lines as well as the Great American Smokeout event organized annually to encourage smokers to quit. This year’s event is November 19. To address the unique needs of childhood cancer survivors who smoke, St. Jude created the Cancer Survivor Tobacco Quit Line through a grant from the National Cancer Institute.

Through the quit line, participants are assigned to one of two interventions: a counselor-initiated group or a self-paced group. In the counselor-initiated group, St. Jude counselors call participants six times during an eight-week period. The counselors help participants prepare to quit, set quit dates and help participants avoid relapses. Smokers in the self-paced group receive the same intervention but are responsible for phoning the counselors. All participants receive nicotine-replacement therapy in the form of patches or gum.

“St. Jude has long sought to empower childhood cancer survivors, helping them understand the health risks associated with their treatment as well as providing resources for follow-up care. The quit line is an extension of this philosophy,” Klesges said.

St. Jude counselors on the confidential, toll-free line hold advanced degrees and have professional experience in public health. “We personalize the plan to each participant,” said Charla Folsom, the study’s lead clinical research associate. “We gauge what situations are the hardest for participants and try to create a plan to help with those situations.”

Participation in the quit line is free and open to all childhood cancer survivors, regardless of where they received treatment. Study organizers plan to enroll 1,000 participants during the next few years. Childhood cancer survivors can call (877) 4SJ-QUIT, or visit www.stjude.org/breakfreefromsmoking for more information about the tobacco cessation study. 

The quit line effort is one of several ongoing St. Jude studies, seeking to improve the quality of life among adults who survived pediatric cancer. St. Jude is also the coordinating institution for the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study (CCSS), a data-gathering program organized by 30 centers in the United States and Canada, studying the late effects of childhood cancer. Information about CCSS studies can be found by visiting http://ccss.stjude.org.

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is internationally recognized for its pioneering work in finding cures and saving children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases. Founded by late entertainer Danny Thomas and based in Memphis, Tenn., St. Jude freely shares its discoveries with scientific and medical communities around the world. No family ever pays for treatments not covered by insurance, and families without insurance are never asked to pay. St. Jude is financially supported by ALSAC, its fundraising organization.