Fox Chases Research Shows Text Messages Can Help New Mothers to Avoid Smoking

PHILADELPHIA (August 27, 2020) – Researchers at Fox Chase Cancer Center have published a study about preventing cigarette smoking relapse in urban, underserved women after they have given birth. Although much research has been conducted on smoking cessation in general, programs are not designed to help underserved mothers quit the habit long term.

By using a text-based app called Txt2Commit, which was developed at Fox Chase, researchers were able to help modify the smoking habits of new mothers living in North Philadelphia. The messages were sent out until one month after participants had given birth. Participants rated the messages as “helpful, understandable, supportive, and not bothersome,” according to surveys and interviews.

“We’ve been worried for a long time about the huge gap in effective tobacco cessation programs for underserved women postpartum,” said Suzanne M. Miller, PhD, lead investigator, professor, and director of patient empowerment and decision making in the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Fox Chase.

Smoking cessation programs designed for urban pregnant women typically yield short-term results, with participants often resuming smoking after they give birth, she said.

Furthermore, current smoking cessation programs overlook potential stressors, in addition to caring for a newborn, for the target population, including financial difficulties, significant health issues, and family stress. The willpower to resist temptation was a key factor in the study. Those who were better able to manage temptation were less likely to relapse.

“Text messaging is an ideal way to send counseling messages to participants, particularly women caring for a newborn who often don’t have time to talk to someone on the phone,” said Erin K. Tagai, PhD, MPH, lead author and a postdoctoral associate in Miller’s lab.

The researchers found that 93% of the study’s target population used a mobile phone and 83% used text messaging daily. “The Txt2Commit messages are designed to target key psychosocial factors related to smoking relapse,” Tagai said.

“By using Txt2Commit, we found that texting is a feasible means to help women quit smoking,” said Miller. Approximately one in three participants remained smoke-free upon conclusion of the study. The research team plans to optimize the effectiveness of messages to improve non-relapse rates.

Txt2Commit will also be repurposed to enhance the patient care of underserved women who unknowingly put themselves at risk of cervical cancer. “Receiving follow-up care can actually help prevent cervical cancer by removing precancerous cells. A Pap smear is just the first step to preventing and diagnosing cancer,” said Tagai.

“We think text messaging is a great way to encourage follow-up care,” Miller added.

The article, “Persistent Barriers to Smoking Cessation Among Urban, Underserved Women: A Feasibility Study of Tailored Barriers Text Messages,” was published in Maternal and Child Health Journal.

Fox Chase Cancer Center (Fox Chase), which includes the Institute for Cancer Research and the American Oncologic Hospital and is a part of Temple Health, is one of the leading comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase is also one of just 10 members of the Alliance of Dedicated Cancer Centers. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence six consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach. It is the policy of Fox Chase Cancer Center that there shall be no exclusion from, or participation in, and no one denied the benefits of, the delivery of quality medical care on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, disability, age, ancestry, color, national origin, physical ability, level of education, or source of payment.

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