Study of cancer centers seeks sustainable strategies for tobacco cessation programs

A new study led by the University of Florida is investigating ways for cancer centers to sustain programs that help patients quit using tobacco. The five-year study is funded through a $2.8 million grant from the National Cancer Institute.

Leading the research team is Ramzi Salloum, Ph.D., from the Department of Health Outcomes and Biomedical Informatics in the College of Medicine. His expertise includes tobacco control research and implementation science, which studies how well evidence-based practices translate into the real world. In this case, the study considers how well cancer centers sustain evidence-based programs that support their patients to quit smoking.

“This work is important because smoking is still the number one cause for preventable deaths in general,” Salloum said. “This is one of largest studies of sustainability in implementation science.”

Ramzi Salloum, PhD
Ramzi Salloum, PhD

The study investigates more than 50 centers across the U.S. involved with the Cancer Center Cessation Initiative, started by the National Cancer Institute in 2017 through its Cancer Moonshot Program. The initiative is addressing a gap in cancer treatment, because many of the leading cancer centers did not have programs to help patients quit smoking at the time the initiative was launched.

A major challenge is that the costs of treating tobacco use are not reimbursed fully. To support cancer centers, the study will develop and refine a toolkit of strategies for programs to be financially sustainable.

Sustainability is becoming the larger issue, according to Salloum, because National Cancer Institute funding for the tobacco treatment programs has ended. Prioritizing sustainability is uncommon in medical research, because the research tends to focus on the short-term effects of interventions instead of their long-term viability.

“We’re starting with sustainability from day one,” Salloum said. The study plans to create a new model that will allow evidence-based tobacco treatment programs to operate beyond their initial investment period.

The research team will conduct an implementation mapping study that will uncover how well tobacco treatment programs have fared under the Cancer Center Cessation Initiative and what factors and strategies could contribute to future program sustainability.

The study’s timing is fortuitous because the University of Florida Health Cancer Center earned its designation from the National Cancer Institute in June, which will allow the University of Florida to expand its cancer research portfolio.