Breast Cancer Treatment Less Effective in Women Who Smoke

Efficacy of aromatase inhibitors reduced among breast cancer patients who smoke.

Smokers diagnosed with breast cancer and treated with aromatase inhibitors after surgery face a higher risk of cancer recurrence than non-smokers, a recent study suggests.

For the study, researchers followed 1016 patients diagnosed with breast cancer between 2002 and 2012 in southern Sweden. About 1 in 5 of the women reported that they were either a regular smoker or a social smoker at the time of surgery.

Researchers analyzed the impact of smoking based on the type of breast cancer treatment administered post-surgery.

The results of the study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, found that women older than 50 and treated with aromatase inhibitors were most affected by smoking.

“The treatment with aromatase inhibitors worked significantly better in the non-smoking patients,” said principal study investigator Helena Jernström. “However, we saw little or no difference between smokers and non-smokers among patients treated with the drug tamoxifen, radiotherapy or chemotherapy. More studies are needed, but our findings are important as many breast cancer patients receive this type of treatment.”

Authors noted that an unexpected finding to the study was that very few patients quit smoking while undergoing treatment, despite being informed of the importance of cessation. In fact, out of 206 patients who smoked, just 10% stopped smoking in the first year after their surgery.

“That was unexpected,” Jernström said. “Smoking is not health-promoting in any way, after all, so it is always beneficial to stop. But these findings show that patients who smoke need more support and encouragement to quit.”

This number was so minimal that researchers were unable to determine if patients who quit smoking during their treatment had any effect.