Post-diagnosis smoking cessation and survival of patients with head and neck cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Br J Cancer. 2022 Nov;127(11):1907-1915. doi: 10.1038/s41416-022-01945-w. Epub 2022 Aug 23.


Cigarette smoking is the main risk factor for head and neck cancer (HNC) and many HNC patients are active smokers at diagnosis. We conducted a systematic literature review and meta-analysis to quantify the survival impact of smoking cessation at or around the time of HNC diagnosis. We searched studies published until December 31, 2021, and used random-effects meta-analysis to pool study-specific estimates into summary hazard ratio (SHR) and corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CI). Sixteen studies were published between 1983 and 2021, and over 2300 HNC patients were included. Studies were diverse in terms of design, patients, tumours and treatment characteristics, and criteria used to discriminate quitters from continued smokers. HNC patients who quit smoking at or around diagnosis had significantly better overall survival than continued smokers (SHR 0.80, 95% CI 0.70-0.91, n studies = 10). A beneficial effect of post-diagnosis smoking cessation was suggested for other survival endpoints as well, but the results were based on fewer studies (n = 5) and affected by publication bias. Cessation counselling should be offered to all smokers who start a diagnostic workup for HNC and should be considered standard multidisciplinary oncological care for HNC patients. PROSPERO registration number CRD42021245560.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking Cessation*