Scientists discover link between smoking and skin cancer

18 May 2017

Scientists have reported strong evidence of a link between smoking and a common form of skin cancer.

A team of researchers from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Australia have studied nearly 19,000 people and found that current smokers were significantly more likely to develop a squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the skin than non-smokers.

The study involved Caucasian people living in Queensland aged 40 to 69 who had never been diagnosed with a skin cancer, with 10 per cent of the group being current smokers, 35 percent were former smokers, and 55 percent had never smoked.

Read more: Social smoking as dangerous as daily habit

Professor David Whiteman and his colleagues tracked how many common skin cancers the group developed over three years, and discovered that current smokers were at significantly higher risk of SCC than former smokers or people who had never smoked.

“We don’t yet understand how smoking might increase the risk of SCC, but these findings strongly suggest that by quitting, smokers are lowering their risk of SCC to the same level as someone who has never smoked,” he said in a statement. “This is another good reason to quit.”

In contrast, no evidence was found that smokers had higher risks of basal cell carcinomas (BCC) than non-smokers.

Read more: E-cigarettes ‘much safer than smoking tobacco’

While ultraviolet (UV) exposure is the biggest risk factor for developing these common skin cancers, the findings suggest that smoking could also play a role. A number of previous studies have examined the relationship between smoking and common skin cancers, but the findings to date have been conflicting and inconclusive.

“Unlike previous studies, we controlled for a range of established risk factors including skin colour and history of sun exposure,” Professor Whiteman said. “A consensus is starting to emerge that smoking has very different associations with SCCs and BCCs.”

The full study has been published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

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