One of the most important studies I have read on prostate cancer was published earlier this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health investigated the possible effects of smoking and prostate cancer. They followed a group of over 5,300 men for an average of 8 years after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. They found something VERY surprising. Men who continued to smoke after their diagnosis of prostate cancer (compared to either men who never smoked or who quit 10+ years before their diagnosis) had much worse outcomes. They had:
- a 61% increased risk of prostate cancer recurrence after treatment, and
- a 61% increased risk of dying from their prostate cancer
Not surprisingly, the smokers also had a much higher rate of dying from cardiovascular disease: 213% greater risk!
Additionally, their was a dose-response effect that demonstrated that those men who smoked the most also had the worst outcomes:
- Current smokers of 40 or more pack-years (a “pack-year” is defined as smoking one pack per day for one year…40 pack-years means you smoked one pack per day for 40 years) versus never smokers had an 82% increased risk of dying from their prostate cancer
- Compared with current smokers, those who had quit smoking for 10 or more years or who have quit for less than 10 years but smoked less than 20 pack-years had the same risk of dying from prostate cancer as never smokers.
This is not the first study to demonstrate worse outcomes in patients who continue to smoke, but the is the first rigorous analysis to show this association in prostate cancer. Other cancers that seem to be associated with worse outcomes in smokers include: lung, cervical, breast, and head & neck cancers
Partly explaining the increased aggressiveness of cancers in smokers, may be a function of the unhealthy lifestyle factors common among smokers (i.e. diets higher in saturated fats, refined flours and simple sugars, low levels of physical activity, higher stress levels, insufficient sleep, etc.) Read more about the “anti-cancer” lifestyle on the IOE website.
Other studies have reported that toxic compounds in tobacco smoke, produced through the combustion process, directly and indirectly increase the aggressiveness of cancer cells (i.e. increasing tumor growth rate, increasing testosterone production, increasing systemic inflammation, decreasing tumor cell sensitivity to radiation therapy, etc.).
The bottomline: If you have cancer, DON’T SMOKE!! By quiting now, you will increase your odds of preventing cancer recurrence and progression and from dying from your cancer and cardiovascular disease.
- go ‘cold turkey’ (the hardest option…although your diagnosis of cancer may help motivate you)
- nicotine patches or gum
- prescription medications that help decrease the urge to smoke
- join a smoking cessation program (most effective option)
- try acupuncture
- electronic cigarettes and vaporizers, etc…