Similarly, Chen and his colleagues found that 53 of the patients who still smoked experienced disease recurrence, compared to 40 patients in the control group. Active smokers also experienced more complications of radiation therapy, such as scar tissue development, hoarseness and difficulties with food intake, than their counterparts who had quit prior to starting therapy.
The incidence of secondary cancers following radiation therapy was not significantly different between the two study groups.
"A diagnosis of cancer is emotionally devastating, and a lot of patients are reluctant to entertain the idea of smoking cessation. Many patients can't or won't connect the dots, and, unfortunately, our data shows that by continuing to smoke, they are more likely to gamble away the possibility of cure."
Chen said additional research will be needed to explain these differences in outcomes for patients with head and neck cancers. One theory suggests that smoking deprives the body of much-needed oxygen. "Radiation therapy requires oxygenation for the production of free radicals, which attack cancer cells," he said.
Chen emphasized that his findings are based on an observational study, which does not establish a cause-effect relationship between smoking during radiation therapy and poorer outcomes. Researchers were unable to determine with certainty the actual cause of death of each patient, and active smokers may be at higher risk of death from other medical problems such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
"In addition, patients unable to quit may also have non-cancer-related medical and psychosocial problems that could possibly contribute to inferior survival," Chen said. "Those who continue to smoke even after a diagnosis of head and neck cancer are likely to be at higher risk for alcohol abuse, have less social support and have l
|Contact: Dorsey Griffith|
University of California - Davis - Health System