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Cigarette smoke intensifies head and neck cancer, study finds

PHILADELPHIA, U.S.: The dangers of smoking are well known, and in a new study, researchers have pinpointed it as being a major factor in developing head and neck squamous cell carcinoma, the sixth most common cancer in the world. The study was conducted by researchers from Thomas Jefferson University and highlights, among other things, how cigarette smoke reprograms cells.

“Cigarette smoke changes the metabolism of cells in head and neck squamous cell carcinomas, making the tumors more efficient as an ecosystem to promote cancer growth,” said lead author Dr. Ubaldo Martinez-Outschoorn, associate professor in the Department of Medical Oncology and a researcher at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson.

In the study, researchers exposed fibroblasts to cigarette smoke and found that the smoke increased a particular type of metabolism called glycolysis, which produces metabolites that are used by nearby cancer cells to help fuel their growth. According to the researchers, the cancer cells developed certain features of malignancy, such as increased mobility and resistance to cell death.

Dr. Joseph Curry, associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery and a member of the research team, said that, because a healthy immune system is responsible for recognizing and attacking malignant cells, it will now be interesting to learn how these altered fibroblasts might influence the efficacy of current immunotherapies. “Our finding is part of a growing interest in understanding the metabolic relationship between different cells in the tumor microenvironment, and how we can target them to improve patient outcomes,” explained Curry.

The study, titled “Cigarette smoke induces metabolic reprogramming of the tumor stroma in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma,” was published online on June 25, 2019, in Molecular Cancer Research, ahead of inclusion in an issue.

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