Smokers at Highest Risk of Developing Secondary Head and Neck Tumors

University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center
Last Modified: May 16, 1999

Smokers are not only the most likely people to develop lung cancer, but also cancer of the head and neck. This study by the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center shows that they are also at highest risk of developing a secondary head and neck cancer -- which is defined as cancer of a different origin than a patient's primary tumor.

That is the interim result of an ongoing trial testing the powers of a synthetic vitamin A called 13-cisretinoic acid to prevent secondary head and neck cancers. Although the double-blind, placebo-controlled study is scheduled to conclude in October 2002, the research team headed by Drs. Fadlo Khuri and Waun Ki Hong has noted a definitive trend: trial participants who are actively smoking have developed the highest rate (5.1%) of second cancers, followed by former smokers (4.1%). The 10 percent of enrolled patients who never smoked have developed the lowest rate (3.0%) of secondary cancers. The researchers have also found that when secondary cancers do develop, they are most often located in the lungs, head and neck, bladder or esophagus -- all areas damaged by tobacco smoke.

About 46,000 Americans develop cancer of the head and neck each year, and 12,000 people die from it.