- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2006


Lung cancer patients who use nicotine supplements such a patch or gum to help them quit smoking may undermine their chemotherapy.

Although nicotine is not known to cause cancer, it can protect cancer cells from some of the most widely used chemotherapy drugs, researchers reported yesterday at a cancer research meeting.

Srikumar Chellappan of the University of South Florida and colleagues studied the effects of nicotine on lung cancer cells that were treated with three commonly used drugs in cancer therapy: gemcitabine, cisplatin and taxol.

The laboratory research focused on human non-small cell lung cancer, which accounts for 80 percent of all lung cancers. In chemotherapy, exposure to the chemicals causes cancer cells to self-destruct in a process called apoptosis. When nicotine was present, the cells increased production of a pair or proteins, XIAP and survivin, that protected the cells from apoptosis.

“Our findings are in agreement with clinical studies showing that patients who continue to smoke have worse survival profiles than those who quit before treatment,” the researchers said.

“They also raise the possibility that nicotine supplementation for smoking cessation might reduce the response to chemotheraputic agents,” they added in a report appearing next week in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (www.pnas.org).

The findings also were being presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Washington.

For smokers with lung cancer, “the best thing is to stop as soon as they can,” Mr. Chellappan said in a telephone interview. They should avoid nicotine in all forms, not just smoking, he said, adding “that is easier said than done.”

“There are a lot of smoking cessation programs, behavioral- rather than chemical-based,” he said. “That would be the best thing to quit smoking.”

Dr. John Stevens, a vice president of the American Cancer Society, said if a smoker “could be induced to quit without using nicotine substitutes, then that would be my suggestion.”

“However, if there is no other way, I would opt for the lesser of two evils, and the lesser is to quit smoking by whatever means,” Dr. Stevens said in a telephone interview.

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