I was scrolling through my news feed earlier this week when a headline grabbed my attention: “Smokers Less Likely to Survive Dangerous Form of Skin Cancer Than Non-Smokers.” What?!? This is something that had never crossed my mind, so I read the article.
Smoking: it's worse than you think
The article stated that people with melanoma and who also smoke have a significantly reduced chance of survival. How much is considered significantly? Forty percent. Those with melanoma who smoke are 40% less likely to survive melanoma than those who have never smoked.1
It's thought that smoking affects immunity and also has direct effects on cancer cells. A study published in Cancer Research Journal that involved over 700 patients found that smoking disrupted the effectiveness of a person’s immune cells in trying to destroy melanoma.1
It gets even worse
Additionally, the Melanoma Institute Australia reported in October 2017 that new research showed a direct correlation between smoking and an increased risk of melanoma spreading. The study of over 4,000 melanoma patients indicated that not only did smokers tend to have thicker and more ulcerated primary melanomas, but current smokers were significantly more likely to have a sentinel lymph node metastasis.2
There are currently over 34 million adults in the United States who smoke. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, for 2019 an estimated 192,310 new melanomas will be diagnosed in addition to over one million Americans who are already living with melanoma. I’m reading this as meaning that there’s a good chance far too many people who have melanoma also smoke.
You can control your survival rate
In the United States, the estimated five-year survival rate for patients whose melanoma is detected early is about 99%. Those sound like pretty good odds, don’t they? The odds, unfortunately, change pretty drastically if someone who has melanoma smokes.
Many people are aware that lung cancer can be a direct result of smoking. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that cigarette smoking is linked to 80-90% of lung cancer deaths. (As an aside, I also learned from the CDC that cigarette smoking can also cause cancer almost anywhere in the body. It can cause cancer of the mouth and throat, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, pancreas, voicebox, trachea, kidneys, bladder, and cervix.)3 Even though the consequence of lung cancer from smoking is well known, I have a feeling that not enough people realize the adverse effects smoking can have on melanoma.
If you’re battling melanoma and you smoke, please stop smoking. And if you know someone battling melanoma and you smoke, please do not smoke around them; you may be lessening their chances of surviving melanoma. No joke, people – don’t smoke!
How well was your skin cancer diagnosis explained to you?