The smokeless tobacco product snus, which is used mainly in Sweden but also is sold in the U.S., may increase the risk that men with prostate cancer will die from their disease, and the risk that they’ll die prematurely from any cause, according to a new study led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The findings, which build on previous studies showing increased risk of death from prostate cancer in smokers with the disease, suggest that nicotine or other non-combustion-related components of tobacco may play a role in prostate cancer progression.
The study appeared in the Oct. 12, 2016 International Journal of Cancer.
“Snus has been suggested as a less harmful alternative to smoking because it lacks the combustion products of smoking that are associated with cancer risk. However, we found that men with prostate cancer who used snus were at increased risk of premature death,” said co-first author Kathryn Wilson, a research scientist in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard Chan School.
Snus is a powdered tobacco product, often sold in teabag-like sachets, that is placed under the upper lip for extended periods. It contains nicotine but no combustion components, and has not been previously studied in relation to prostate cancer survival.
The researchers analyzed health data collected from Swedish construction workers during preventive health check-ups, including a tobacco use questionnaire completed during each man’s initial check-up. Of these men, 9,582 later developed prostate cancer. About half of the subjects died during the follow-up period—2,489 from prostate cancer.