Smokers six times more likely to get head and neck cancer
24 June 2016 (Last updated: 16 Nov 2016 11:04)
PRESS RELEASE 00.01 18 August 2016
Smokers six times more likely to get head and neck cancer but the longer they stop the healthier they are, say facial surgeons calling for accurate recording of patients’ smoking status in clinical trials to improve patient survival rates.
A new study reveals that not only does giving up smoking improve patients’ survival prospects after radical treatment for head and neck cancer, but the duration of being a “quitter” counts and every year improves protection. It calls for the smoking status of patients to be documented accurately in future clinical trials so that facial surgeons can use the data to encourage patients to give up and improve their survival chances.
The new review, published in the British Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery (BJOMS), looked at the survival outcomes for 521 patients with head and neck cancer and carefully compared survival and recurrence of cancer with a precise smoking history. It found that the longer the patient had stopped smoking the healthier they were, and over 15 years a “quitter” gave the most health protection.
David Mitchell, BJOMS Editor and Consultant maxillofacial surgeon, explains that people who smoke are six times more likely to develop head and neck cancer: “Current research shows that smokers get more aggressive forms of the disease than non-smokers. As facial surgeons we need better information to help us encourage patients to give up smoking so that they have a far better chance of survival, which is why this review of data is so important.”
Writing in the BJOMS article, lead review author Wei Cao, a surgeon at the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Head and Neck Oncology in Shanghai’s Ninth People’s Hospital School of Medicine, calls for smoking status of patients to be documented accurately in future clinical trials. He writes: “This shows that the clinical course of the disease is also related to smoking after diagnosis.”
Smokers who give up are less likely to develop head and neck cancer and have significantly better survival rates, and the longer they’ve given up the better their chances, the new review reveals. This is known as ‘pack years’, where the greatest risk of developing cancer is related to how long a person has smoked. People gain the greatest benefits if they’ve given up for more than 15 years.
David Mitchell agrees with the review conclusion that calls for larger studies to establish the links between stopping smoking, tobacco-related cancers and health and survival benefits: “I absolutely agree with the authors that we need larger studies to establish conclusive links between stopping smoking, tobacco-related cancers and health and survival benefits. Existing research already indicates that clinicians find secondary cancer in the neck lymph nodes of patients who continued to smoke after diagnosis.”
Lead review author Wei Cao writes in BJOMS that further studies should group smokers into at least three groups that separate past users from current users and number of years stopped smoking.
David Mitchell also supports strengthening community smoking cessation measures: “Stopping all forms of tobacco use improves patients’ lives and makes it easier for us to help them and save lives.”
A view backed by Consultant maxillofacial surgeon, and Deputy Lead for the BAOMS Oncology Sub Specialty Interest Group, Mike Bater: "Patients with head and neck cancers benefit considerably from stopping smoking. Not only does this reduce the risk of the cancer recurring, it also makes it less likely that further head and neck cancers will develop in the future.
“Additionally, we know that patients with head and neck cancers that stop smoking recover quicker if they are treated by surgery, as they tend to get less postoperative complications and have better wound healing.”
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), is a strong advocate of community-based stop smoking services: "Stopping smoking is the best thing any smoker can do to improve their quality of life. Smokers are more likely to get cancer, and, if they carry on smoking their cancer is more likely to kill them.
“Smokers are up to four times more likely to quit successfully if they get help from the stop smoking services, and smokers undergoing cancer treatment should be given specialist help to stop."
For further information contact: Siân Evans on 020 8674 8921 / 07752 414433 or email the office
The British Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (BAOMS) promotes the advancement of education, research and the development of oral and maxillofacial Surgery in Great Britain, and encourages and assists postgraduate education, study and research. For further information, see About BAOMS
Read the complete BJOMS article Reformed smokers have survival benefits after head and neck cancer
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