Although active tobacco smoking has been considered a major risk factor for head and neck cancer, few studies have evaluated environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and its interaction with mutagen sensitivity on the risk of head and neck cancer. We investigated the relationship between ETS and head and neck cancer in a case-control study of 173 previously untreated cases with pathologically confirmed diagnoses of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck and 176 cancer-free controls at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center between 1992 and 1994. A structured questionnaire was used to collect ETS exposure and other covariates including a history of active tobacco smoking and alcohol use. ETS measures include a history of ETS exposure at home and at workplace. The associations between passive smoking and head and neck cancer were analyzed by Mantel-Haenszel methods and logistic regression models. Additive and multiplicative models were used to evaluate effect modifications between ETS and mutagen sensitivity. The crude odds ratio (OR) for ETS exposure was 2.8 [95% confidence intervals (CI), 1.3–6.0]. Controlling for age, sex, race, education, alcohol consumption, pack-years of cigarette smoking, and marijuana use, the risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck was increased with ETS (adjusted OR, 2.4; 95% CI, 0.9–6.8). Dose-response relationships were observed for the degree of ETS exposure; the adjusted ORs were 2.1 (95% CI, 0.7–6.1) for those with moderate exposure and 3.6 (95% CI, 1.1–11.5) for individuals with heavy exposure (P for trend = 0.025), in comparison with those who never had ETS exposures. These associations and the dose-response relationships were still present when the analysis was restricted to nonactive smoking cases and controls (crude OR, 2.2; 95% CI, 0.6–8.4). Crude odds ratios were 1.8 for those with moderate ETS exposure and 4.3 for individuals with heavy ETS exposure among nonsmoking cases and controls (P for trend = 0.008). More than multiplicative interaction was suggested between passive smoking and mutagen sensitivity. This study suggests that ETS exposure may increase the risk of head and neck cancer with a dose-response pattern. Our analysis indicated that passive smoking may interact with mutagen sensitivity and other risk factors to increase the risk of head and neck cancer. Our results need to be interpreted with caution because of potential residual confounding effects of active tobacco smoking and other methodological limitations. Future large-scale studies are warranted to confirm our findings.
- Received September 8, 1999.
- Revision received July 7, 2000.
- Accepted July 21, 2000.