Smokers Puffing Away Pet Cats' Nine Lives

Article

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Cats exposed to many years of secondhand smoke have a higher risk of developing a deadly form of lymphoma than cats living in tobacco-free homes, new study findings show.

Dr. Elizabeth R. Bertone of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and her colleagues found that cats that shared a household with a smoker at any time in their lives were more than twice as likely to develop malignant lymphoma than cats that never lived with a smoker.

Researchers have suggested that malignant lymphoma in domestic cats may serve as a model for another type of lymphoma in humans, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Previous studies have found conflicting evidence as to whether smoking is linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in humans, but the results from the current study suggest that the link may, in fact, exist.

"Our study suggests that exposure to household environmental tobacco smoke may increase the risk of malignant lymphoma in pet cats," Bertone and her colleagues write.

"Similarities between feline malignant lymphoma and human non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and the commonality of environmental tobacco smoke exposure for all household members, suggests further research into these relations may be warranted," they add.

Lymphomas are a group of related cancers of the lymphatic system, a component of the immune system that carries infection-fighting white blood cells.

To determine the link between secondhand smoke and lymphoma in cats, Bertone's team compared the amount of tobacco use in households that were home to a total of 80 cats that developed lymphoma, and those that were home to 114 lymphoma-free cats.

Reporting in the recent issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, the investigators found that cats with household exposure to tobacco smoke during any point in their lives were more than twice as likely to develop malignant lymphoma as cats that had spent their lives in households that were smoke-free.

Furthermore, the authors note, the risk of developing this form of cancer appeared to increase according to how much the cat's housemates smoked and the number of years of household tobacco exposure. The relationship culminated in a more than threefold higher risk of the lymphoma in cats exposed to household environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) for at least 5 years, or in cats that lived in households where the people smoked at least one pack of cigarettes each day.

"Routes of ETS exposure in cats may be through inhalation and oral ingestion during grooming of particulate matter deposited on the fur; feline exposure patterns thus may mimic those of young children living in smoking households, who may both inhale ETS and orally ingest particulate matter by mouthing contaminated objects," Bertone and her colleagues write.

Further research is needed to determine the relationship between secondhand smoke and the development of lymphoma in humans, the authors conclude.

SOURCE: American Journal of Epidemiology 2002;156:268-273.

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