TSET-funded research finds that exposure of cancer cells to e-cigarette vapor reduces the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs

Partially funded by TSET, new research from OU Health’s Stephenson Cancer Center suggests e-cigarette use may make a common chemotherapy drug less effective on certain cancers. Dr. Lurdes Queimado, Director of the TSET Health Promotion Research Center Tobacco Regulatory Science Lab, was instrumental in the study and provided additional information about this groundbreaking research recently published in Scientific Reports:

“It’s well known that tobacco smoking is the leading preventable cause of cancer and that continuing to smoke during cancer treatment can reduce overall survival. Some patients were curious if they should switch to electronic cigarettes during cancer treatment. There was not quality research on this important topic, so we decided to find out.

We learned that, in vitro, cancer cells exposed to e-cigarette extracts and treated with a common chemotherapy drug called cisplatin have a significant decrease in cell death, increase in viability, and increase in survival when compared to non-exposed cells. This means the cancer treatment was less effective. Tobacco smoke extracts induced similar or higher increases in cisplatin resistance depending on the specific tumor studied.

One of the biggest surprises in the research was that this effect appeared even when we removed nicotine from the e-cigarette extract. Going into the research project, the team’s hypothesis was that this was a nicotine-dependent effect; however, in the oral cancer cells our study examined, the exposure to nicotine-less e-cigarette aerosol extracts also increased the amount of the chemotherapy drug needed to reduce cancer cell growth.

We don’t know precisely what compounds in the e-cigarette aerosol are responsible for our observation. We are now investigating whether propylene glycol (PG) or metals like cooper, zinc and cobalt, which have been shown to change the same proteins inside the cancer cells, play a role in the observed increase in cancer .

Independently of the mechanism, our work suggests that for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, e-cigarettes may not be the first choice for supporting tobacco cessation and more established tobacco cessation tools should be encouraged.

TSET is the reason why my team is studying e-cigarettes. An initial TSET seed grant was essential to get preliminary data that has supported several major grants, including a $2.25 million NHI/NCI grant awarded in July 2020 to our team to study the role of e-cigarettes in oral cancer, particularly youth oral cavity cancer risk. We polled cancer patients from the past 12 years, comparing those who used e-cigarettes and those who didn’t. We are taking that information and moving from the lab to the clinic for a five-year research study – 99% of which will be completed here in Oklahoma – focusing on 240 young adults between the ages of 18 and 35.”

Read the full research study here.

Published by Tobacco Stops With Me on February 23, 2021