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Tailoring treatment for African American smokers has potential to lower cancer risk and improve health


Making discoveries that can advance clinical practices and close the gap between health and racial disparities is inspiring for researchers.

There is a great need to examine the racial disparities in healthcare and how we can help those who are most vulnerable and disproportionally affected by smoking related disease, such as lung cancer, COVID-19 and early mortality.

Quitting smoking may bring back up to 10 years of life and can lead to numerous health improvements, even among cancer patients. With the long-standing systemic health inequality of African Americans, some communities are at higher risk for COVID-19 and more severe outcomes from the illness. Kicking the habit is hard, but personalized medicine has potential to help those who are most vulnerable to quit smoking.

With high interest in personalized medicine, are we ready?

Li-Shiun Chen, MD, MPH, ScD, an associate professor and board-certified psychiatrist, conducted a genetically informed smoking cessation trial directly comparing two of the most effective smoking cessation drugs (nicotine patch plus nicotine lozenge versus Chantix).

Chen’s study found that treatment response differs based on genetics for African American smokers. Smokers with low risk genotypes quit better when treated with a combination of nicotine patches and nicotine lozenges, while those with high risk genotypes, quit better with Chantix. We still need more data to clarify the trend in European ancestry smokers.

Personalized medicine for smoking cessation in the future may be possible if doctors use genetics to help choose the most effective therapies. More evidence is needed to understand the racial differences in treatment response. These findings enhance our ability to improve the health disparities among African American smokers whose risk, prevalence, and mortality from smoking-related diseases are disproportionately high.