Betel nut chewing has direct correlation to disease - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Betel nut chewing has direct correlation to disease

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Here at home and in our neighboring islands it's a common practice. Approximately 600 million - or 10 percent of the world's population - chews betel nut. Though it's cultural and there are some documented benefits of chewing, there's also a greater risk to multiple disease outcomes, most alarming of which is oral cancer.

Earlier this week, researchers presented their findings on the beloved betel nut. Dr. Thaddeus Herzog told KUAM News, "What this is basically a quit chewing program. It's done for betel nut chewers who want to quit."

It's called the Betel Nut Intervention Trial - just one of the many research investigations presented by members of the University of Guam and University of Hawaii Cancer Center Partnership to Advance Cancer Health Equity. Dr. Herzog is from the University of Hawaii. He has a background in smoking cessation research, and he said, "When I arrived in Hawaii I was introduced to betel nut and betel nut research. And so we got the idea: why not take smoking cessation techniques - those sorts of programs you might be familiar with - and adapt them in various ways to help betel nut chewers quit."

What did they know? Many betel nut chewers and cigarette smokers had a lot in common, including the desire to quit.

Dr. Herzog said, "They did want to quit. Many have tried to quit. As is the case with cigarette smokers, but they didn't have a clear idea of how or when they'd quit. But putting all this information together, we thought, yes it does make sense to try to develop a betel nut cessation program using as a starting point, cigarette smokers."

What did they do? 150 betel nut chewers - those who added tobacco - from Guam and Saipan participated. Half were given the full intervention program, the other half wasn't.

Dr. Yvette Paulino from the University of Guam told KUAM News, "The intervention group will get the full cessation program, plus a basic booklet on information on quitting betel nut as well as the harmful effects of betel nut. Then the control group just gets the booklet without any intervention."

The findings were positive.

Dr. Herzog said, "At the end of the 22 days, the intervention - in other words, the people who actually went through the program - 15.5% of them reported that they quit at the end of these 22 days, compared to just the 9.1% who did not get the full program. And somewhat surprising the quit rates even go up at the six month follow-up."

After six months, those who participated in the full intervention reported a 40-percent quit rate compared to the control group who reported only a 21.4-percent quit rate.

In a nutshell, it worked. Investigators admit they struggled with recruitment, but hope to continue enrollment, analyzing data, and publishing the results - with an emphasis on the tobacco aspect of betel quid.

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