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Sunday, 10 June, 2001, 23:54 GMT 00:54 UK
Smokers 'risk breast cancer spread'
Women with breast cancer who smoke are at more risk
Women with breast cancer who smoke are at more risk
Women with breast cancer who smoke are twice as likely to get secondary tumours in the lungs, doctors have found.

An American doctor compared women whose breast cancer had spread with those whose had not.

She found women with breast cancer which had spread, or metastasised, to the lung were twice as likely to be smokers as those whose cancer had not spread.

The finding is an additional piece of bad news for women who smoke.


Women are more likely to survive breast cancer if they don't smoke

Professor Susan Murin,
University of California
Last September Cancer Research Campaign (CRC) statistics showed lung cancer had overtaken breast cancer as the biggest killer of women in Britain.

The rise was blamed on an increase in the number of women smoking.

Smoking is not a direct risk factor for breast cancer.

But the doctor who carried out the research said the findings backed up previous work which had linked smoking to a higher risk of lung metastasis in women with breast cancer and that women who smoke are more likely to die of breast cancer than non-smokers.

There were about 13,500 deaths from breast cancer in the UK in 1997, according to the CRC.

About 35,000 new breast cancer cases are diagnosed in the UK each year.

'Fertile environment'

Professor Susan Murin and statistician John Inciardi of the University of California Davis School of Medicine and Medical Center studied data from women who had attended the unit.

There were 87 whose invasive breast cancer which had metastasised to the lungs, who were compared with 174 women, whose breast cancer had not spread.

Prof Murin said the reason for cancer being more likely to spread was unclear, but she speculated cigarette smoke may make lungs a more "fertile environment" for cancer.

She said: "Smoking changes the immune function of the lungs and makes blood vessels more leaky.

"Once cancer cells escape the bloodstream, they are more likely to set up housekeeping in distant sites."

Other factors, such as smokers tending to have less healthy diets and exercising less could also contribute to the link.

Prof Murin is now going to carry out research looking at whether stopping smoking after being diagnosed with breast cancer can limit the risk of developing secondary tumours in the lung.

Quitting

The researchers estimate survival rates to be around 80%, if breast cancer is picked up early, but say once its spread to other parts of the body, it is more difficult to treat.

Prof Murin said: "Women are many ways more frightened of breast cancer than lung cancer, because it's so much more common. Everyone knows someone who has breast cancer.

"But women are more likely to survive breast cancer if they don't smoke. If we can let them know that, it might motivate some women to quit."

Dr John Toy, medical director of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, said: "'This provides women smokers who have developed breast cancer a real opportunity to improve their chances of survival."

Amanda Sandford, research manager from Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) told BBC News Online: "Tobacco smoke contains around 60 substances known to cause cancer.

"Therefore, it should not be that surprising that women with breast cancer who smoke are going to be at greater risk of seeing their cancer spread to other parts of the body."

The research is published in Chest Journal.

An editorial published with the study suggests smokers diagnosed with breast cancer should be offered support to help them stop smoking.

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See also:

28 Dec 00 | Scotland
Lung cancer victims 'to blame'
27 Feb 01 | Health
Big rise in cancer cases
11 Sep 00 | Health
Smoking addiction 'sets in early'
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