A new study says patients with head and neck cancer with a history of smoking have less survival rates after radiation therapy than those who have never smoked.Smokers are also more likely to experience a recurrence of cancer after radiation than never smokers, the study by UC Davis Cancer Center found.

There is something unique about the biology of head and neck cancers among non-smokers that makes them more amenable to cure by radiation therapy,” said Allen M. Chen of the UC Davis radiation oncology and otolaryngology departments. “These tumors just melt after a few doses of radiation. If we could understand why, there would be important implications for new drugs and treatments.” The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Researchers wanted to understand the prognosis differences in patients with head and neck cancer based on their smoking history. They found 14 of 70 patients who never smoked experienced a relapse of the disease compared to 26 patients with history of smoking. Only 65 per cent of the patients who smoked were disease free after three years, compared to 82 percent who were nonsmokers.

“We are in the process of conducting several laboratory experiments designed to better understand why cancers arising from never smokers are so exquisitely radiosensitive,” Chen said.