MONDAY, Nov. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Breast cancer patients who
smoke or previously smoked have a higher risk of dying than
nonsmokers with breast cancer, new research finds.
"Women who were smokers or had a history of smoking had a 39 percent higher rate of death due to breast cancer," said study author Dr. Dejana Braithwaite, an assistant professor of cancer epidemiology at the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center of the University of California, San Francisco. Their risk of death from other causes was also elevated, she said.
The findings are to be presented at the American Association for
Cancer Research's annual meeting on cancer prevention research in
Philadelphia, which runs through Wednesday.
Previous studies looking at the relationship between active
smoking (as opposed to secondhand smoke) and survival among women
with breast cancer have produced mixed findings, she said.
"The strength of our study is, it's a very large study of over 2,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer" at two sites in the United States, she said.
For this study, Braithwaite followed 2,265 women of many
ethnicities, all diagnosed with breast cancer between 1997 and
2000, for nine years on average. The researchers looked at whether
smoking affects breast cancer-related death rates and death rates
from other causes.
During the follow-up, 164 women died of breast cancer and
another 120 from other causes.
Besides a 39 percent higher rate of dying from breast cancer,
the smokers and former smokers had an even higher rate of dying
from other causes -- twofold -- compared to never smokers. Past
smoking was defined as having smoked 100 or more cigarettes in
Looking at subgroups, Braithwaite found that the women most
affected by smoking were those with tumors known as HER2 negative,
those of lower body weight, and those past menopause.
The link can't be explained definitively, she said. One
possibility is that the chemicals in tobacco smoke can make breast
cancer more aggressive. But the assumption is, the longer one has
gone without smoking, the less the risk, Braithwaite said.
In the study, 893 were former smokers, 173 current and 1,199
"Their study is important," said Daniel Wartenberg, a professor of epidemiology at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, N.J. He previously studied the effect of passive smoking on breast cancer death rates and found no link.
If these findings are confirmed by other studies, he said,
"that's a really important message, that getting people to stop
smoking and prevent exposure may have a significant effect on
reducing cancer deaths."
To learn more about risk factors for breast cancer, visit the
American Cancer Society.
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