Smoking Cuts Rare Tumor Risk

Smoking is dangerous for health; this is what we have been told all our lives. But a research has been conducted by Sadie Palmisano, a doctoral student in epidemiology at Ohio State University and lead author of the study that has confirmed a link between smoking and a lowered risk of a rare benign tumor near brain called acoustic neuroma.

What is acoustic neuroma

Acoustic neuroma is a tumor that grows on the vestibular cochlear nerve connecting the ear to the brain. It is not cancer, but it can cause nerve damage as well as symptoms that include vertigo, ringing in the ears and hearing loss.

How acoustic neuroma is treated

The only treatment for these slow-growing tumors is surgical removal or high-powered radiation that reduces their size. About one in 100,000 people per year develops these growths, which account for approximately 8 per cent of all primary tumors inside the skull in the United States.

Statistical data of the research

The scientists conducted a nationwide study of acoustic neuroma between 2002 and 2007, compiling data on Swedish patients between the ages of 20 and 69 years at the time of diagnosis with the tumors.

These patients, as well as healthy Swedish control participants, also completed questionnaires about environmental exposures and lifestyle choices.

Palmisano and colleagues applied statistical analysis to these data to determine associations between smoking and snuff use and risk for acoustic neuroma. The analysis included data on 423 patients with tumors and 645 controls matched for age, sex and home location.

What the research suggested

The study using Swedish data suggested that men who currently smoke are almost 60 per cent less likely than people who have never smoked to develop this tumor, called an acoustic neuroma.

Relationship with snuff

Men in the study who used snuff, which produces roughly the same amount of nicotine in the blood as smoking, had no reduced risk of tumor development.

“We see this effect with current smokers but don’t see it with current snuff users, so we think that maybe the protective effect has something to do with the combustion process or one of the other chemicals in cigarettes that are not in snuff,” said Sadie Palmisano. “We learned something from exclusion.”

The research does not endorse smoking

Though the research is aimed at prevention of acoustic neuromas, the researchers emphasized that they do not endorsesmoking as a way to avoid developing a tumor.

How it works

The findings suggested to the scientists that a lack of oxygen associated with smoking might help prevent the tumors by starving the cells whose overgrowth leads to the formation of an acoustic neuroma.

These are called Schwann cells, and they produce the myelin coating on nerve cells in the peripheral nervous system outside the brain and spinal cord.

It holds true for current smokers only

Current smokers were those who smoked at least one cigarette per day for six months or longer. For people who had smoked and then quit, including even longtime smokers, “we didn’t find as much of an effect. It’s like a puzzle,” Palmisano said.

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