According to an article recently published in the journal Cancer, women have a higher risk than men that smoking will increase their risk of developing head and neck cancer.
Head and neck cancer refers to several types of cancers including, but not limited to, cancer of the tongue, gums, oral cavity, nasal cavity, voice box, and back of the throat. Although men have a higher rate of head and neck cancer than women, incidence of head and neck cancer in women has been increasing significantly throughout the world.
Once head and neck cancer has spread from its site of origin, survival rates decrease dramatically. As well, treatment for more advanced head and neck cancer is often associated with significant declines in quality of life, as surgery often disfigures patients and/or severely impairs their ability to perform basic functions such as chew, swallow, or speak. Radiation that includes the salivary glands may also cause extremely dry mouth or sores in the mouth.
Smoking has already been established as a risk factor for developing head and neck cancer. However, data is limited about female smokers and their particular risk of head and neck cancer. Researchers affiliated with the National Cancer Institute recently conducted a clinical study to explore the association between cigarette smoking and head and neck cancer in women. This study included over 476,000 men and women, aged 50–71 years. From 1995 through 2000, 584 men and 175 women were diagnosed with cancer.
- Overall, men had a higher incidence of head and neck cancer than women.
- Smoking, however, caused a greater proportion of head and neck cancer in women than in men (75% versus 45%, respectively).
The researchers concluded: “Cigarette smoking is a strong risk factor for head and neck cancer in both men and women. Incidence rates of head and neck cancer were higher in male smokers than female smokers, but smoking may explain a higher proportion of head and neck cancer in women than in men.” Individuals who smoke may wish to speak with their physician regarding smoking cessation programs.
Reference: Freedman N, Abnet C, Leitzmann M, et al. Prospective investigation of the cigarette smoking-head and neck cancer association by sex. Cancer [early online publication]. August 10 2007. DOI: 10.1002/cncr.22957.
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