Smoking increases death risk of head and neck cancer
PATIENTS with head and neck cancer who smoke at diagnosis have a significantly higher rate of death from the disease, according to a new study.
It shows that one in two of the patients identified were smokers when they cancer were found while one in five had already given up.
"A major finding was that smoking increased the rate of cancer death within five years of being diagnosed," said Dr Harry Comber, one of the authors of the study by the National Cancer Registry.
The cancers can affect around 30 areas of the head and neck including the mouth, voice box, nose and salivary glands.
He said when current smokers were compared to those that had never smoked, the smokers had a 36pc increased death rate from cancer. Ex-smokers had "a modest" rise in the death rate.
The rate of death due to cancer was significantly raised in smokers with tumours in the part of the mouth behind the teeth and gums, the throat and voice box.
"The risk of cancer death was higher in current smokers who underwent tumour-directed surgery than in those who did not. Another key finding was that neither chemotherapy nor radiotherapy modified the effect of smoking," Dr Comber said.
"These results suggest that the relationship may be explained, at least in part, by adverse effects of smoking on surgical outcomes and disease recurrence."
While smoking is a major risk factor in the causes of head and neck cancer, greater efforts to encourage a stop in those newly diagnosed with head and neck cancer should bring significant survival benefits, the study added.
"Our study supports the conclusion of the recent US Surgeon General's report that smoking cessation may prolong the survival of cancer patients compared to persistent smoking," Dr Comber said.
"It suggests that benefits would accrue from greater efforts to encourage and support smoking cessation in those at risk of, and diagnosed with, head and neck cancer. We must convey the message that it is never too late to quit smoking."
Many of the 400 people in Ireland diagnosed with these cancers annually present at late stage in the disease.
Public awareness of the cancers remain low and dentists are involved in free screenings annually in a bid to pick up potential cases which can be referred on for further investigation. Smoking and alcohol increase risk.