Majority of male cancer deaths linked to smoking, say US scientists

In collaboration with the Press Association

A US study has provided further evidence that smoking increases the risk of death from cancers other than lung cancer.

The majority of lung cancers are caused by smoking, but scientists have long known that tobacco contributes to a number of other forms of the disease.

The latest study, which is published in the journal BMC Cancer, provides further evidence for the link between smoking and deaths from cancer.

Researchers at the University of California-Davis conducted an analysis of National Centre for Health Statistics data on men in Massachusetts.

When they looked at annual death rates from lung cancer and death rates from all other cancers between 1979 and 2003, they found that the two rates changed in tandem, with the strongest association among men between the ages of 30 and 74 years.

Overall, smoking appears to have been linked to more than 70 per cent of cancer deaths in 2003 - far higher than the previous estimate of 34 per cent in 2001.

The researchers believe that increased efforts to control tobacco use, such as smoking bans and interventions to increase quit rates, could therefore save more lives than previously thought.

Lead author Dr Bruce Leistikow, associate adjunct professor of public health sciences at UC Davis, commented: "This study provides support for the growing understanding among researchers that smoking is a cause of many more cancer deaths besides lung cancer.

"The full impacts of tobacco smoke, including secondhand smoke, have been overlooked in the rush to examine such potential cancer factors as diet and environmental contaminants. As it turns out, much of the answer was probably smoking all along."

The expert noted that both smokers and non-smokers should take steps to avoid tobacco smoke and observed that healthcare reforms and promotion campaigns should pay "increased attention" to the prevention of smoking.

Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK policy manager, said: "This study shows the vital need for continued efforts to help all smokers - men and women - to quit. Stopping smoking remains by far the most important thing an individual can do to reduce their risk of developing cancer.

"The vast majority of smokers start before the age of 19, so it's also crucial that young people are discouraged from starting."

Ref: Leistikow et al. BMC Cancer 2008, 8:341

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Bruce N Leistikow, Zubair Kabir, Gregory N Connolly, Luke Clancy, Hillel R Alpert (2008). Male tobacco smoke load and non-lung cancer mortality associations in Massachusetts BMC Cancer, 8 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1471-2407-8-341