Use of tobacco during cancer treatment

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Published: 22 Apr 2013
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Dr Samantha Sobus – Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, NY

Dr Samantha Sobus talks with ecancer at the 2013 AACR Annual Meeting in Washington DC about the continuation of nicotine use during radiation therapy.

Continuing to smoke after cancer diagnosis has dramatic effects on both treatment and outcome, including drug resistance, tumour growth and increasing side effects of treatment.


An editorial with some highlights of the meeting is available to read for free in ecancermedicalscience.

AACR Annual Meeting 2013

Use of tobacco during cancer treatment

Dr Samantha Sobus – Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, NY


Our lab examines the effect of continuing to use nicotine, primarily during radiation treatment. Continuing to use tobacco while undergoing cancer treatment will negatively impact your therapeutic outcome. So you’re going to have increased tumour resistance when you continue to smoke while undergoing treatment and that’s both chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

We’re beginning to look into the different mechanistic aspects of continuing to use nicotine and what type of impact it’s going to have on radiotherapy. Additionally, we’re further going into looking at the effects of different tobacco cessation agents, pharmacologic ones that are both nicotine based and non-nicotine based and seeing what kind of impact that’s going to have on how effective radiation treatment is going to be.

Our preliminary results are showing that if you use tobacco cessation agents, the different pharmacologic ones that are non-nicotine based, those ones are going to potentially give a better therapeutic outcome than your nicotine based ones. We’re measuring therapeutic outcome mostly in vitro at this moment; we haven’t yet gone and examined patients specifically, in the future we hope to. At the moment all of our data is showing us that you have more cells surviving on radiotherapy, meaning that your tumour isn’t going to respond to therapy as well as it would have if you stopped smoking completely. Our evidence is suggesting that patients who were previous smokers and were smokers at the time of diagnosis that want to quit really should quit and, furthermore, if they need assistance they should use the non-nicotine based cessation therapies over the nicotine based ones.

All of the evidence that we have is primarily based using radiation therapy, however all of the literature suggests that you would see a similar type of effect with chemotherapy but we haven’t examined that directly and that is potentially some of the future directions we’ll be taking.