Let’s try a quiz:
Because tobacco use can limit the body’s ability to respond to cancer therapies, and because stopping tobacco use helps patients maintain a healthy lifestyle after treatment is over, the answer is B.
Perhaps you knew that by looking at the answers. But not everyone knows that. It is Dr. Anil Vachani’s mission to make sure everyone does.
Dr. Vachani, a pulmonologist at Penn Medicine, sees patients who have been referred to him because of abnormalities in their lungs. He funnels the patients with cancer to the appropriate places: to chemotherapy suites to be treated with drugs, to operating rooms to have their tumors surgically excised, and to radiotherapy facilities to be treated with ionized particle beams. In every single one of those cases, active tobacco use has been shown to curtail the tonic effects of treatment. In other words, smoking can not only give you cancer, it can also prevent your cancer from going away. It’s like the Baltimore Ravens: vicious on offense and defense. The best way to prevent playing against it is to not smoke. If you smoke, stop it. Right now.
It’s not that Dr. Vachani and his colleagues don’t understand how hard it is to quit. “Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man,” he said in our interview. “We think that it’s important to tackle the tobacco problem up front.”
But he doesn’t have the support of the whole medical community. There are still people out there—including medical professionals—who, despite the evidence, would say that it’s more important that the patient be comfortable than be treated effectively. This leads to a horrid mess in which patients get conflicting advice from caregivers and often end up just going with their old habits of tobacco use. Old habits die hard and kill easy, and one of the most important tasks for medical professionals right now is to make sure they can all get on the same page (the correct page.)
So what’s the way forward? “We’ve got to make sure the message doesn’t die, that we’ve got to get to a nation of non-smokers,” said the tired-looking, hero-hearted Dr. Vachani, waxing optimistic while he laid out the state of the War on Tobacco. “It seems that message is out there; people know that smoking is bad for you…but we’ve stopped making more progress,” he told me.
So whoever you are, wherever you live: watch the video of Dr. Vachani talking about how smoking can limit the effectiveness of cancer treatment, then go to your local hospital. Bring your laptop. Out front, you’ll see some people smoking furtively. Show them the video. Yell at your smoker friends and boycott their company. Do whatever you can. If you’re not in America, do the same thing. Dr. Vachani’s vision is national, but his message is global: smoking is factually a bad idea. If you need more evidence, peruse the pages of OncoLink and prepare for reality to slap you hard. Revolution is at hand.
Seriously though, put down the cigarette. We care about you.