Smoking hurts head-neck cancer outcomes

Patients with head and neck cancer linked to human papillomavirus have worse outcomes if they smoked or are smokers, U.S. researchers say.

A study, published in Clinical Cancer Research, suggests that current or former smokers may need a more aggressive treatment regimen.

Senior study author Thomas Carey of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ann Arbor says research shows that human papillomavirus-positive head and neck cancers tend to be more responsive to current treatments and patients overall tend to have better outcomes than patients with human papillomavirus-negative tumors.

However, the new study finds that current tobacco users with human papillomavirus-positive tumors were five times more likely to have their cancer recur. Even former smokers had an increased risk of recurrence, Carey says.

“Because the effect of human papillomavirus is so strong in giving a very good prognostic picture, we were surprised to find that smoking remained a huge issue, and it actually affected the outcome in patients who smoked,” Carey says.

The study looked at 124 patients with advanced cancer of the tonsils or the base of the tongue. Of the human papillomavirus-positive patients who had never used tobacco, 6 percent had a recurrence of cancer.


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