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Cigarettes, alcohol, and depression: characterizing head and neck cancer survivors in two systems of care.

Lambert MT, Terrell JE, Copeland LA, Ronis DL, Duffy SA. Cigarettes, alcohol, and depression: characterizing head and neck cancer survivors in two systems of care. Nicotine & tobacco research : official journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco. 2005 Apr 1; 7(2):233-41.

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Tobacco exposure is a key risk factor for head and neck cancer, and continued smoking after diagnosis negatively affects outcomes. The present study examined tobacco smoking, nicotine dependence, alcohol use, and depression in survivors of head and neck cancer. Subjects at least 6 months post-initial diagnosis of head and neck cancer (N = 694) drawn from three VA otolaryngology clinics (n = 309, VA patients) and a university-based otolaryngology clinic (n = 385, non-VA patients) were administered questionnaires and standardized rating instruments for nicotine and alcohol dependence and for depression. Additional clinical information was extracted from chart reviews. Despite high rates of prior smoking, less than one-quarter of all subjects continued to smoke. After controlling for significant confounding variables, we found that VA patients were more likely to be current smokers (OR = 1.9, 95% CI = 1.3-3.0), but current VA smokers did not differ significantly from non-VA smokers on the Fagerström Test for Nicotine Dependence criterion (p = .69). The VA patients were more likely to screen positive for problem drinking on the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (OR = 2.1, 95% CI = 1.3-3.7). After adjusting for other variables, we found no statistical difference between the groups in depression scores on the Geriatric Depression Scale-Short Form. The study provides data on smoking, alcohol use, and depression in head and neck cancer survivors indicating that VA patients are at increased risk for continued smoking and problem drinking relative to non-VA patients. Head and neck cancer patients benefit from aggressive smoking cessation efforts by the VA, but many patients need specialized services that integrate smoking interventions with treatment of comorbid alcoholism.

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