New Study Establishes Link Between Smoking and Prostate Cancer

28 June 2011

Recently the FDA unveiled new anti-smoking imagery that will be required to be displayed on cigarette packages by September 2012.  These images have caused some controversy due to their graphic nature and have raised questions regarding their effectiveness.  As an example, one of these images shows a man holding a cigarette, with smoke coming from a tracheotomy in his neck.  This image is accompanied by text warning that smoking is addictive.  The implication of this warning is that even after undergoing the removal of the larynx (voice box) due to cancer caused by smoking, the addictiveness of the habit is strong enough to keep you hooked.  It’s a warning to both the physical and psychological dangers of smoking.

There’s one warning not included with these new labels that men need to be made aware of.  A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found a link between smoking and prostate cancer recurrence and mortality rates.  This 25 year study followed a large cohort of men, of which 5,366 were diagnosed with prostate cancer during the study period.  Current smokers, categorized by pack-years (< 40 and ≥ 40), were 61% more likely to die from the disease than their non-smoking counterparts.  Smokers were also 61% more likely to have a recurrence of the disease after treatment.  As expected, prostate cancer mortality rates increased with heavier cigarette usage: men who smoked two packs per day for 20 years (or 1 pack per day for 40 years) saw an 82% increase in the risk of death from the disease.

Data presented in the study also points to a correlation between smoking and the development of aggressive forms of the disease, which would account for the higher mortality rate.  It’s known that the chemicals found in cigarette smoke have a carcinogenic effect.  We normally associate this effect with the development of mouth, tongue, throat, lung, and larynx cancers as these areas come in direct contact with cigarette smoke.  We must be mindful that the chemicals found in cigarette smoke are not just brought into the lungs, but into the bloodstream where they circulate throughout the body, having a systemic effect.  Additionally, cigarette smoke does not only affect smokers; the effects of second-hand smoke can be just as toxic.

There is good news for ex-smokers though.  It was found that those men who had kicked the habit for a minimum of 10 years had mortality rates similar to those who never smoked.  The area of concern here, however, is that we’re diagnosing men with prostate cancer now at younger ages due to better screening methods.  It is common for people to have the misconception that prostate cancer is an “old man’s” disease – it is not.  It’s a disease that will affect 1 out of 6 men during their lifetime.  While the chance of developing the disease does increase with age, many young men are being diagnosed as well.

It goes without say that quitting smoking, regardless of your age, can greatly improve both your overall health and your chances of surviving prostate cancer.

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