Tobacco smoking during radiation therapy for head-and-neck cancer is associated with unfavorable outcome

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2011 Feb 1;79(2):414-9. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2009.10.050. Epub 2010 Apr 14.


Purpose: To evaluate the effect of continued cigarette smoking among patients undergoing radiation therapy for head-and-neck cancer by comparing the clinical outcomes among active smokers and quitters.

Methods and materials: A review of medical records identified 101 patients with newly diagnosed squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck who continued to smoke during radiation therapy. Each active smoker was matched to a control patient who had quit smoking before initiation of radiation therapy. Matching was based on tobacco history (pack-years), primary site, age, sex, Karnofsky Performance Status, disease stage, radiation dose, chemotherapy use, year of treatment, and whether surgical resection was performed. Outcomes were compared by use of Kaplan-Meier analysis. Normal tissue effects were graded according to the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group/European Organization for the Treatment of Cancer toxicity criteria.

Results: With a median follow-up of 49 months, active smokers had significantly inferior 5-year overall survival (23% vs. 55%), locoregional control (58% vs. 69%), and disease-free survival (42% vs. 65%) compared with the former smokers who had quit before radiation therapy (p < 0.05 for all). These differences remained statistically significant when patients treated by postoperative or definitive radiation therapy were analyzed separately. The incidence of Grade 3 or greater late complications was also significantly increased among active smokers compared with former smokers (49% vs. 31%, p = 0.01).

Conclusions: Tobacco smoking during radiation therapy for head-and-neck cancer is associated with unfavorable outcomes. Further studies analyzing the biologic and molecular reasons underlying these differences are planned.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / mortality
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / radiotherapy*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / mortality
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / mortality
  • Neoplasms, Second Primary / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Smoking / mortality
  • Treatment Outcome