A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Leeds and published in the journal Cancer Research shows that smoking may hinder the immune system’s ability to fight off skin cancer.
More than 700 patients diagnosed with melanoma took part in the study, and the researchers found that participants who were smokers were 40 percent less likely to survive the disease compared to the participants that hadn’t smoked for the past decade or more.
A smaller experiment with 156 participants yielded important insights into how smoking may inhibit the body’s immune response to cancer cells.
Past research has shown that smoking negatively impacts the immune system, but this relationship has not been thoroughly understood.
While the researchers could not officially determine why smoking lowered survival rates or even that smoking caused a lowered immune response, the study shows a definite association between the two.
“The immune system is like an orchestra, with multiple pieces. This research suggests that smoking might disrupt how it works together in tune, allowing the musicians to continue playing but possibly in a more disorganised way,” said Julia Newton-Bishop, the lead author of the study. “The result is that smokers could still mount an immune response to try and destroy the melanoma, but it appears to have been less effective than in never-smokers, and smokers were less likely to survive their cancer.”
More work is needed to understand what chemicals in tobacco disrupt the immune system’s ability to fight off cancer cells, but the researchers say the results provide another important motivation to help smokers quit.
“Overall, these results show that smoking could limit the chances of melanoma patients’ survival so it’s especially important that they are given all the support possible to give up smoking for good,” said Dr. Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, which funded the study.
By Kay Vandette, Earth.com Staff Writer