New "reality" program will help those close to lung cancer victims quit smoking

Doctors in the U.S. have come up with a program which they hope will encourage the relatives and friends of lung cancer victims to quit smoking.

Dr. Lori Bastian, an internist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, says it is at such a time, when they are coping with a loved one's lung cancer that they seriously think about quitting smoking because they see the consequences in real life.

Bastian, says patients' relatives have told her and her colleagues that they would quit but usually feel it is the worst time to try, because of the stress and anxiety of caring for a sick relative.

But she believes that particular time presents an excellent teaching opportunity.

Therefore Bastian and her team designed a telephone counseling program consisting of six half-hour sessions offered over 12 weeks that includes instruction on skills for coping with stress, such as relaxation techniques and guided imagery.

Bastian says they are things that people could do in the car or while waiting in the doctor's office.

Participants are identified by the researchers asking lung cancer patients being treated at Duke, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Durham VA Medical Center whether they have a relative who smokes who wants to quit.

The study participants are given brochures and a cassette with information on the dangers of smoking and advice on quitting, along with nicotine patches; half of the number also receive the counseling sessions.

Bastian and her team are hoping to enroll 480 people in the study, and already have 340 committed to try the program.

The plan is to monitor them for one year after the 12-week program, and check self-reporting of smoking cessation success with saliva tests.

Bastian and her colleagues have found that only 15 percent of smokers give up cigarettes when a relative is diagnosed with lung cancer.

They are hoping their program will elevate that percentage to 30 percent or 40 percent.

Bastian says that at present the feedback is positive and they are optimistic.

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