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Heavy tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption may be associated with poor survival among patients with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL). These findings were recently reported in the International Journal of Cancer.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) is a malignancy in which cancerous cells arise from cells of the lymphatic system, which includes the spleen, thymus, tonsils, bone marrow, lymph nodes, and circulating immune cells. The lymphatic system is a drainage system within the body. Two of its primary functions are to maintain fluid balance and produce cells called lymphocytes, which fight infection.

Lymphocytes are the main cells of the lymph system and are classified into two forms: B- and T-cells. Each of these cells has specific functions to help the body fight infection. B-cells, which are white blood cells, are the cells most commonly affected by NHL.

Various studies have shown a link between alcohol and cancer. Risks due to alcohol vary depending on the type of cancer. Cancers mostly commonly associated with alcohol include those of the mouth, esophagus, throat, breast, and liver. Combining use of tobacco with heavy alcohol use increases the risk of these cancers.

In this recent study, researchers evaluated the impact of heavy tobacco and alcohol use on survival for patients diagnosed with NHL. Between 1983 and 2002, researchers evaluated 268 patients diagnosed with NHL. For each patient, information regarding disease characteristics and smoking and drinking habits was evaluated. Comparisons were made between never-smokers and those who smoked more than 20 cigarettes per day.

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  • Compared with never-smokers, patients who smoked more than 20 cigarettes per day had a higher risk of death and lower five-year survival rates.  
  • Similarly, patients who drank more than four drinks per day showed a higher probability of death when compared with patients who drank less than two drinks per day.
  • At five years 47% of the smokers had survived compared with 67% of the never-smokers.
  • When alcohol and tobacco use were combined, the light drinkers (less than two drinks per day) were found to have no greater risk of death, despite their smoking habits.
  • Patients who consumed more than four drinks per day and used tobacco had a higher risk for death.

The researchers concluded that heavy tobacco smoking and heavy alcohol consumption were both associated with poor survival among patients with NHL. These findings strongly encourage patients with NHL to stop smoking and minimize alcohol consumption.

Reference: Talamini, R., Polesel, J., Spina, M., et al. The impact of tobacco smoking and alcohol drinking on survival of patients with non Hodgkin lymphoma. International Journal of Cancer. 122 (7) 1624-1629.

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