Arnold Levinson, PhD

As part of the Cancer Moonshot, the National Cancer Institute recently launched the Cancer Center Cessation initiative (C3i) to help cancer centers create and maintain tobacco cessation treatment programs for all cancer patients. The University of Colorado Cancer Center is one of 22 centers nationally to receive funding through the initiative.

“Smoking cessation in cancer patients seems like a no-brainer, but the fact is that many NCI-funded centers aren’t set up to provide smoking cessation treatment to cancer patients,” says Arnold Levinson, PhD, investigator at the CU Cancer Center and project director of C3I at clinical partner University of Colorado Hospital. “Cancer treatment is a complex process involving many providers and many facilities. It’s been a challenge to integrate smoking cessation into this larger program.”

The two-year grant augments CU Cancer Center’s existing core grant, enabling the center to build reliable ways of identifying tobacco users and helping them decide whether to quit and how to do it. In this initiative, the CU Cancer Center will be part of a national conversation to discover what works best for helping cancer patients quit smoking.

“There are unique challenges in helping cancer patients quit smoking, including skepticism on both the provider side and the patient side,” Levinson says. “For example, your provider might think you’re so worried about cancer that you’re unable to think about quitting smoking. Or he or she might think smoking is helping the patient cope with anxiety, so now isn’t the right time to quit.”

There are other challenges as well, Levinson said: “Cancer treatment requires many appointments and many facilities, but smoking cessation requires consistent contact. The highly specialized oncologists that work in national cancer centers like ours are among the best at treating cancer, but they are not necessarily prepared or have time to help patients quit smoking.”

The new initiative does not need to reinvent smoking cessation treatment, but will focus instead on reinventing ways to connect the cancer patients who use tobacco with the best-known cessation treatments and support.

“This initiative seeks to remove the barriers and establish systems that ensure all cancer patients who smoke have access to the most effective treatments for quitting,” Levinson says.