Cigarettes could limit the body’s ability to fight skin cancer, new research suggests.

Patients with melanoma who have a history of smoking are 40% less likely to survive the disease than those who have never smoked, a study published in journal Cancer Research found.

The researchers, from the University of Leeds, said the findings provide another reason why people should drop the habit.

The immune response of smokers appears to have been less effective than those who had never touched a cigarette which reduces their chances of survival, they said.

Professor Julia Newton-Bishop, lead author of the Cancer Research UK-funded study, said: “The immune system is like an orchestra, with multiple pieces.

“This research suggests that smoking might disrupt how it works together in tune, allowing the musicians to continue playing but possibly in a more disorganised way.”

The study used data from more than 700 patients with melanoma, a dangerous type of skin cancer which can spread to other organs.

Smokers and former smokers were 40% less likely to survive for 10 years after their diagnosis, when compared to people who had never smoked, the research found.

NHS help to quit smokingStopping smoking appears particularly important for patients diagnosed with melanoma (Jonathan Brady/ PA)

In a small group of 156 patients who had the most genetic indicators for immune cells, smokers were around four and a half times less likely to survive than non-smokers.

The researchers said that because smokers in this group had a reduced chance of survival, it could be that cigarettes directly affect their body’s ability to deal with melanoma cancer cells.

“The result is that smokers could still mount an immune response to try and destroy the melanoma, but it appears to have been less effective than in never-smokers, and smokers were less likely to survive their cancer,” Prof Newton-Bishop said.

“Based on these findings, stopping smoking should be strongly recommended for people diagnosed with melanoma.”

The researchers said that, while the study found a link between smoking and reduced chances surviving melanoma, it does not show smoking caused the drop.

Dr Julia Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: “Overall, these results show that smoking could limit the chances of melanoma patients’ survival so it’s especially important that they are given all the support possible to give up smoking for good.”