Smoking Cessation Reduces Risk of Head and Neck Cancer

Posted on November 3rd, 2009 by

Compared with people who continue to smoke, people who stop smoking have a 30% lower risk of head and neck cancer within one to four years of quitting, and a 77% lower risk after 20 years. Quitting alcohol also reduces the risk of head and neck cancer, but the benefit takes longer to become apparent. These results were published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Head and neck cancers originate in the oral cavity (lip, mouth, tongue), salivary glands, paranasal sinuses, nasal cavity, pharynx (upper back part of the throat), larynx (voice box), and lymph nodes in the upper part of the neck.

Risk factors for head and neck cancer include smoking, alcohol consumption, and infection with high-risk types of human papillomavirus (HPV).

To explore the effect of smoking and alcohol cessation on risk of head and neck cancer, researchers evaluated information from 17 studies of smoking cessation and 13 studies of alcohol cessation.

  • Compared with people who continue to smoke, people who stop smoking have a 30% lower risk of head and neck cancer within one to four years of quitting, and a 77% lower risk (similar to the risk in never smokers) after 20 years.
  • Alcohol cessation does not appear to provide an immediate reduction in risk of head and neck cancer but does reduce risk by 40% after 20 years.

These results suggest that smoking cessation has a more immediate effect on head and neck cancer incidence than does alcohol cessation, although both smoking cessation and alcohol cessation are likely to provide a benefit over time.

Reference: Marron M, Boffetta P, Zhang Z-F, et al. Cessation of alcohol drinking, tobacco smoking and the reversal of head and neck cancer risk. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2009;e-pub on October 5.

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