Smoking rates are down nationally, but so are discussions among physicians and smokers about lung cancer screening, University of Florida researchers have found. However, the study also found these patient-physician conversations did not affect current smokers’ intent or attempts to quit.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States. For active smokers, lung cancer screening can reduce cancer-related mortality by 20 percent. But the study found screening may have no benefits for individuals who do not smoke frequently or are younger than 55 years old, the recommended age to start yearly screenings.
The researchers expected to find that if patients who smoke engage in a discussion about lung cancer screening with their physicians, they will be more motivated to quit. However, the study showed physician-patient discussions were not associated with any changes in smokers’ behavior.
“These results are surprising because we actually want to see an increase in this discussion among smokers who have a high risk of lung cancer, and for this discussion to modify patients’ smoking behavior,” said Jinhai “Stephen” Huo, Ph.D., M.D., Ms.PH., an assistant professor at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of health services research, management and policy and the study’s principal investigator.
Patients who are at a high risk of developing lung cancer have a history of heavy smoking, either currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years, and are between the age 55 and 77 years old. All others are considered low risk and are not eligible for lung cancer screening.
Patient-physician discussions are an opportunity to persuade current smokers to modify or abandon their smoking habits, said Huo. Study data, however, showed that receiving a lung cancer screening did not significantly impact the desire to quit smoking, also called smoking cessation. This suggests that a simple discussion or being screened may not build lasting motivation for current smokers to quit or modify their smoking habits.
The study also found the rates of discussions about lung cancer screenings between physicians and patients who smoke or have a history of smoking decreased from 6.7 percent in 2012 to 4.2 percent in 2014 and 4.3 percent in 2017 — three years that followed a national event promoting lung cancer screening.
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