JAMA Network study: Cancer patients who continue to smoke incur significantly higher cancer treatment costs

Ramzi Salloum Patients who continue to smoke cigarettes while they undergo cancer treatment incur from $10,000 to $250,000 in additional cancer treatment costs per patient, according to a recent study in the journal JAMA Network Open. Cancer patients who smoke also add $3.5 billion to the annual cost of treating cancer in the United States.

The study, among the first to put a price tag on the cost of cancer treatment for patients who continue to smoke, was conducted by a team of researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston and UF Health.

The researchers used data from the 2014 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report to evaluate the added economic costs incurred by patients who continued to smoke cigarettes during their cancer treatment. According to the 2014 Surgeon General’s report, each year about 20 percent of 1.6 million cancer patients continue to smoke cigarettes after beginning cancer treatment.

The researchers evaluated data for cancer patients diagnosed with a broad range of cancers, using an economic model they developed to determine health outcomes and economic costs associated with patients’ continued tobacco use during the treatment. Their evaluation confirmed the findings of previous studies showing that among patients who continued to smoke cigarettes while undergoing treatment, the prescribed cancer treatments were less effective and often failed to work at all.

Continuing to smoke is associated with a 60 percent increased risk of failure of the initial treatment to work, Salloum said. Patients who smoked cigarettes during their cancer treatment also are more likely to experience more toxic side effects than nonsmokers, and are at a greater risk of receiving another cancer diagnosis.

Cancer rates in the United States continue to rise, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Treatment costs, such as the prices of drugs, are also increasing. According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2015, the cost of the top 10 cancer treatment drugs rose by 8.8%.

Several studies have shown that people who quit smoking before cancer treatment increase their chance of survival. For example, one study found a 41 percent reduction in the chance of death among patients being treated for small-cell lung cancer who stopped smoking during treatment compared to those who continued smoking.

“This study highlights the added economic burden of continuing to smoke cigarettes for people who are undergoing cancer treatment,” Salloum said. “Smoking cessation is an important aspect of cancer treatment and should be prioritized for cancer patients who smoke.”