Studies find smoking is connected to both skin cancer and cognitive decline
26th June 2012
Two English studies have been published this month that further highlight the health dangers of smoking. Only a few weeks ago, Medical Specialists Pharmacy touched upon just some of the many negative impacts that smoking has on the body, and how the myth of being ‘too old’ to quit, is not true. Our arguments about how detrimental cigarettes are to a person’s health have been backed-up by the two new studies to emerge. The first was conducted by experts at the University College London and has been made available in the June issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. The authors analysed data extracted from the ‘Whitehall II study’, which was an on-going process that studied cigarette smoking habits and effects in 7,236 British Civil Service employees and first started in 1985, running through until 2009. Of the subjects in the study, 5,099 were male and 2,137 were female. It was determined that middle-aged men who smoke are more likely to see deterioration in functions related to cognition (i.e. memory, perception, problem-solving, attention, etc.). A vast decline was especially shown when comparing male smokers to males who had never lit up. Strangely, the difference in cognitive function in women was shown to be minimal when comparing female smokers to females who had never previously smoked. Lead author Dr. Severine Sabia, had this to say on the results, “There is increasing evidence that smoking is a risk factor for dementia. However, its impact on cognitive decline and particularly on cognitive decline in early old age remained unclear.” Dr. Sabia further went to on to explain the difference in results for the sexes and said, “Several reasons could explain the fact that we did not find an effect in women. First, our sample was composed of less women than men, reducing the probability to find an association in women. Furthermore, it is possible that smoking behaviour is differently associated with other behaviour in men and women.” The second study that demonstrates the bad effects of smoking emanates from experts at the University of Nottingham and was published one week ago in the Archives of Dermatology. This study has linked the smoking of cigarettes and other tobacco as leading to a heightened chance of having cutaneous cell carcinoma (SCC). Squamous cell skin cancer can show anywhere on the body, but is usually evident on areas exposed to the sun such as the face, ears, neck, hands, or arms. SCCs will often appear red and scaly in appearance and is currently the second most common skin cancer with an incidence rate of approximately 10,000 per year in England and Wales, particularly higher in Caucasians. If detected at an early age, cases are nearly always treatable and the patient can make a full recovery. However if the symptoms are ignored for an extended period, this can leave the person disfigured and may even prove fatal. Lead author of this latest analysis on smoking, was Dr. Jo Leonardi-Bee. She and colleagues reviewed 25 separate studies and came to the conclusion that smoking is ‘significantly associated’ with cutaneous SCC, but that smoking does not increase risk for basal cell carcinoma (BCC). The authors are not surprised at this finding though as nonmelanoma skin cancers are heterogenous, with differing causes and prognoses. The authors explain why BCCs are not linked to smoking, “For example, BCC is slow growing and locally invasive, in contrast to cutaneous SCC, which is generally more aggressive and has the potential to metastasize. Therefore, it would be expected that the effect of smoking on the risk of the diseases would also vary considerably between the subtypes of nonmelanoma skin cancer.” They add that their findings are based on data across studies from 11 countries and 4 continents, so should be taken seriously to a certain degree. The authors are not fully certain as to how smoking contributes to cutaneous SCC, but suggest it could be down to a decreased immune function or the carcinogenic properties within tobacco.