Can a Simple Blood Test Aid in Smoking Cessation?

People who struggle with nicotine addiction know how hard it is to kick the habit. They know they should quit smoking but it’s far easier said than done. Studies on the topic have shown that nearly 60% of people who try to quit smoking end up smoking again within just one week. But new research published recently in the journal Lancet suggests that a simple blood test may help to determine a person’s best way of approaching quitting, therefore having a better chance of success.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania looked at how people’s bodies break down nicotine, since everyone’s metabolism is slightly different. It turns out that discovering a person’s individual breakdown speed could help doctors know which smoking cessation aid to prescribe. People who break down nicotine faster tend to crave cigarettes more frequently, making it especially difficult for them to quit.

In the study, researchers observed 1,240 smokers when put on one of three smoking cessation aides. Some participants were given a nicotine patch, a prescription drug called varenicline, or a placebo. Before the study began, each volunteer submitted a blood sample. The samples were tested to see how each person’s body broke down nicotine. During the study, all of the participants had access to anti-smoking counselors.

Study participants with normal nicotine-breakdown rates had better success in quitting smoking when they used the prescription drug. Those with a slower breakdown succeeded at about the same rates with all three aides, although they did report more side-effects when using the prescription drug. These findings may help doctors to know when they should prescribe cheaper patches or more expensive prescription drugs, with potential side effects.

Professor Caryn Lerman, one of the study’s co-authors, said: "If these tests are used, people could have a sizeable chance of success. For some people, with normal metabolism of nicotine, the chance of success might be low on the patches but could double if they take the pill while for a third of the population with slower breakdown, cheaper patches might be best."

The main question about this development regards the cost and effectiveness of the blood tests. Currently, these tests are only used for research purposes. If they were to be rolled out for use by general physicians for any patient, the costs could be high for consumers. For now, more testing will be done on that before introducing this practice to the masses. But the research is promising in the fight to help people quit smoking.

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