Women smokers get more head, neck tumours

Monday, July 26 2010

Elizabeth Lopatto, Bloomberg

Published: Tuesday, August 28

The risk of getting head and neck cancer is higher in women who smoke versus those who don't than in comparable groups of men, a study found.

Males who smoke are 5.5 times more likely than other men to get head and neck tumours, according to research published today in the journal Cancer. Women who smoke are 13 times more likely to develop the disease than females who don't light up, the report found.

Smoking has long been accepted as a risk for developing head and neck cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. This study may help provide insight into how the disease develops in each sex, investigators said. About 75 per cent of these tumors in women are linked to smoking while the habit is linked to 45 per cent of cases in men, the authors wrote.

"Most head and neck cancer in women is from cigarettes," said Christian Abnet, a researcher for the National Cancer Institute and a paper author, in a telephone interview. "The take-home message is that not smoking ever and stopping now if you do smoke is the best way to avoid these cancers."

About 40,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with head and neck cancer every year, according to the study authors. Survival rates after five years depend on the site of the cancer, and range from 31 per cent to 64 per cent.

The study group of more than 476,000 men and women from ages 50 to 71 was funded by the National Cancer Institute. The research also found that men who quit smoking had a 1.5-times higher risk of getting one of these cancers, while women who quit smoking were 3.5 times more likely to develop the tumours.

Non-smoking women are five times less likely to develop cancers of the head and neck than non-smoking men, the study said. This may be because men are traditionally more likely to work in occupations at increased risks of head and neck cancer, such as construction and painting, Abnet said. They may also have been more likely to have been exposed to second-hand smoke, he said.

Cancers of the head and neck have symptoms that include a lump or sore that doesn't heal, trouble swallowing, a sore throat and changes in the voice, according to the National Institutes of Health.

© The Edmonton Journal 2007

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