Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Smoking can hurt the immune system's ability to fight cancer, a new study says.
Patients with malignant melanoma who were regular smokers in the past have a 40 percent lower chance of surviving than patients who haven't smoked, according to a study published Sunday in the journal Cancer Research.
Within a smaller group of those patients with most genetic indicators for immune cells, smokers were about four and a half times less likely to survive a melanoma cancer diagnosis.
"The immune system is like an orchestra, with multiple pieces," Julia Newton-Bishop, a researcher at the University of Leeds, said in a press release. "This research suggests that smoking might disrupt how it works together in tune, allowing the musicians to continue playing but possibly in a more disorganized way."
While the study does associate smoking with a decrease in the survival rate for cancer, it doesn't directly link it as the cause for the drop.
"The result is that smokers could still mount an immune response to try and destroy the melanoma, but it appears to have been less effective than in never-smokers, and smokers were less likely to survive their cancer," Newton-Bishop said. "Based on these findings, stopping smoking should be strongly recommended for people diagnosed with melanoma."
The research lines up with previous studies, as one published in 2017 suggests that smoking can actually cause melanoma to spread to other parts of the body.
Melanoma makes up only one percent of skin cancer diagnosis but the majority of skin cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society. The average age of a person diagnosed with the disease is 63.
"Overall, these results show that smoking could limit the chances of melanoma patients' survival so it's especially important that they are given all the support possible to give up smoking for good," said Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK.