Smokers less likely to survive melanoma

Immune response affected
  • Deborah Condon

People who develop the most deadly type of skin cancer are 40% less likely to survive the disease if they smoke, the results of a new study indicate.

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Ireland. The majority of cases are non-melanoma skin cancer, which can almost always be cured if identified and treated early.

However, around 1,100 cases of skin cancer every year are melanoma, which is the most serious type of skin cancer. This is a cancer of the cells that make melanin, which is the pigment that gives your skin its colour.

UK researchers looked at over 700 melanoma patients and found that overall, smokers were 40% less likely to survive the disease compared to people who had not smoked in at least a decade since their diagnosis.

Furthermore, an analysis of a subset of over 150 patients who had the most genetic indicators for immune cells revealed that they were four-and-a-half times less likely to survive the disease compared to non-smokers.

Since reduced survival appeared to be greatest among smokers with the most indicators of immune cells, the researchers believe that smoking could directly affect how a smoker's body deals with melanoma cancer cells.

In other words, the immune response to the disease is adversely affected, reducing the chance of survival.

"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.

"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," explained the study's lead author, Prof Julia Newton-Bishop, of the University of Leeds.

She added that based on these findings, ‘stopping smoking should be strongly recommended for people diagnosed with melanoma'.

Details of these findings are published in the journal, Cancer Research.


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