Edelman was not surprised that lung cancer survivors were among the most likely to still be smoking. "These are the hard-core smokers," he said. "Smoking cessation is not easy for them. It takes a lot of patience. Rarely do people quit on the first try."
Westmaas said it's not clear whether some of the persistent smokers had tried to quit but were unsuccessful. The "good news," he added, is that of study participants who were smoking at the time of their diagnosis, one-third did manage to quit.
According to Westmaas, the findings suggest that doctors "could do a better job" of asking cancer survivors about their smoking habits, and helping them to quit.
"For these patients," he said, "quitting smoking is the single best thing they can do to increase their survival and improve their general health in the long run."
And it's never too late to quit, according to Jamie Ostroff, director of the tobacco treatment program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
"There is scientific evidence that quitting smoking improves cancer patients' prognosis," Ostroff said. That means not only better odds of surviving the cancer, but also better overall health in the long run, she noted.
So quitting is key for all cancer patients, Ostroff said -- and not just those with types of cancer that are clearly linked to smoking.
"We have safe and effective ways to quit smoking, and they should be offered to all cancer patients," Ostroff said.
Among the options are nicotine replacement therapy, medications and behavioral counseling. And most people need help. According to the cancer society, only 4 percent to 7 percent of smokers are able to quit on their own on the first try.
The reality, Edelman said, is that most people need to make several attempts before they quit for good.
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