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Editorial: How can we motivate patients with bladder cancer to help themselves?

Wash your hands. Cover your mouth when you cough. Do not spread germs. We have all heard these hygiene mantras growing up, but we must admit that compliance has not always been perfect. With the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‐19) pandemic raising mounting alarm, fear has persuaded unprecedented adherence to hygiene principles globally, as we try to stop the spread of this novel virus.

What motivates a change in behaviour? What motivates someone to stop a bad habit and adopt a good one? Can clinicians aid in this motivation?

Chung et al. [1] performed a cross‐sectional study evaluating health behaviours including physical activity, diet, body mass index, alcohol consumption, and smoking status, as well as health‐related quality of life (HRQoL) in patients with bladder cancer at different treatment stages. In their study sample, most of the patients with bladder cancer were overweight or obese, did not adhere to healthy diet recommendations, were unwilling to change their eating habits, and did not meet guidelines for weekly physical activity. However, patients who had adopted healthy behaviours reported a better HRQoL and more healthy behaviours correlated with a better HRQoL. No difference was found when comparing the health behaviours of patients with non‐muscle vs muscle‐invasive bladder cancer (MIBC) or comparing patients at different stages of treatment. This implies that patients’ health behaviour does not change despite bladder cancer diagnosis and treatment; however, pre‐diagnosis data were unavailable for comparison. Interestingly, the large majority of the patients with bladder cancer were non‐smokers (81%), despite most (71%) reporting a prior history of smoking. What led to a change in smoking status when it appears that no other health behaviour changed with diagnosis and treatment of bladder cancer?

Gallus et al. [2] surveyed 3075 ex‐smokers in Italy to answer the question: why do smokers quit? The most frequently reported reason for smoking cessation (43.2%) was a current health problem. Smoking has been linked to the development of numerous medical conditions and is a well‐established risk factor for bladder cancer. Thus, a new diagnosis of bladder cancer undoubtedly serves as a strong motivator for smoking cessation. The benefits of a healthy diet and regular physical activity on one’s health are less defined. Furthermore, the definitions of a ‘healthy’ diet and ‘regular’ physical activity are variable, making counselling about these behaviours confusing and difficult. Dolor et al. [3] found that physicians feel inadequately trained to provide diet counselling to patients as compared to smoking cessation counselling. Additionally, physicians agreed that counselling regarding weight loss, diet, and physical activity requires too much time compared to smoking cessation counselling. These discrepancies may help explain why physicians were more likely to discuss smoking cessation with patients compared to weight loss, diet, and physical activity in a study by Nawaz et al. [4].

At our own institution, we have found that HRQoL significantly declines in patients with bladder cancer after diagnosis relative to controls, with more pronounced decreases seen in patients with MIBC [5]. Patients with bladder cancer are a vulnerable population who face many medical and personal challenges. As clinicians, we should equip these patients with the proper tools to succeed during bladder cancer treatment, including counselling regarding healthy behaviours. Inviting the help of specialists, such as nutritionists and physical therapists, to discuss the importance of diet and exercise early during treatment may be advantageous for patients and more likely to motivate patients to adopt these healthy behaviours. Furthermore, given the paucity of data linking the health behaviours of patients with bladder cancer to HRQoL, studies such as this one [1] could provide much‐needed evidence to persuade patients regarding the positive impact that healthy behaviour can have on their HRQoL. If we can successfully motivate patients with bladder cancer to adopt healthy behaviours, then their HRQoL will likely improve.

by Hannah McCloskey, Judy Hamad, Angela B. Smith


  1. Chung J, Kulkarni GS, Bender J et al. Modifiable lifestyle behaviours impact the health‐related quality of life of bladder cancer survivors. BJU Int 2020; 125: 836– 42
  2. Gallus S, Muttarak R, Franchi M et al. Why do smokers quit? Eur J Cancer Prev 2013; 22: 96– 101
  3. Dolor RJ, Østbye T, Lyna P et al. What are physicians’ and patients’ beliefs about diet, weight, exercise, and smoking cessation counseling? Prev Med 2010; 51: 440– 2
  4. Nawaz H, Adams ML, Katz DL. Physician–patient interactions regarding diet, exercise, and smoking. Prev Med 2000; 31: 652– 7
  5. Smith AB, Jaeger B, Pinheiro LC et al. Impact of bladder cancer on health‐related quality of life. BJU Int 2018; 121: 549– 57

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