Cancer risks from tobacco are not limited to the lungs
Most people are aware that smoking is the most common cause of lung
cancer, but fewer may know that smoking causes many other types of
cancer as well. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention, cigarette smoking is either the direct cause of or a
contributing factor in 30% of all cancer-related deaths in the United
Risks to smokers
Of the 250 harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 69 can cause
cancer. For example, smoking may double the risk of one type of skin
cancer, squamous cell carcinoma.
Head and neck cancers have long been linked with the use of tobacco,
especially in the tissues that inhaled tobacco smoke has to pass
through. Smoking is thought to be responsible for 75% of head and neck
cancers in women and 45% in men. The rate of oral cancer is 27 times
higher in men who smoke than in men who don’t, according to the World
Health Organization (WHO). For cancer of the larynx, the WHO states
that the risk is 12 times higher for smokers than for people who have
never smoked, and alcohol use multiplies this risk.
Tobacco use is also the principal cause of bladder cancer in the
Western world, according to the WHO, accounting for 40%–70% of all
cases. The WHO estimates that smokers’ risk of bladder cancer is two to
three times higher than that of nonsmokers, while the U.S. National
Cancer Institute estimates the risk for smokers is four times higher.
Cigarette smoking also increases the risks for acute myeloid leukemia
and for cancers of the kidney, pancreas, stomach, uterus, cervix,
ovary, and colon/rectum, according to the American Cancer Society.
Other tobacco risks
Exposure to secondhand smoke causes cancer and other diseases and
premature death in nonsmoking adults and children. The U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. National Toxicology Program,
the U.S. Surgeon General, and the International Agency for Research on
Cancer have all classified secondhand smoke as a known cancer-causing
Other tobacco products besides cigarettes are also dangerous. While
most research has focused on the harm of cigarette smoking, cigar and
pipe smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco—such as chewing tobacco
and snuff—have also been shown to cause cancer in humans.
Benefits of quitting
Many factors contribute to a smoker’s risk of cancer, including the
number of years the person has smoked, the number of cigarettes smoked
each day, and the age at which the person began smoking.
The good news is that quitting smoking can significantly decrease a
smoker’s chances of developing or dying from cancer. For people who
already have cancer, quitting smoking reduces the risks of disease
recurrence and of developing a second form of cancer. For cancer
patients undergoing surgery, chemotherapy, or other treatments,
quitting smoking improves the body’s ability to heal and to respond to
therapy. Quitting smoking also lowers these patients’ risk of
developing pneumonia or respiratory failure.
Smokers of any age can benefit from quitting smoking. According to the
National Cancer Institute, smokers who quit around 30 years of age
reduce their chance of dying prematurely from smoking-related diseases
by more than 90% compared with people who continue to smoke.
Similarly, those who quit smoking at age 50 years reduce their risk of
dying prematurely by 50%. Studies have shown that even people who quit
smoking at 60 years or older live longer than those who continue to
It takes a few years after quitting for ex-smokers’ cancer risk to
decline. The benefit increases the longer a person does not smoke.
Nevertheless, there are immediate health benefits to quitting smoking,
such as improvements in lung function, a lowering of blood pressure and
heart rate, improved circulation, and less coughing.
For smokers in almost any age group or health condition, stopping smoking has major health benefits.
– K. Stuyck
talk to your physician. For information about MD Anderson’s Tobacco
Treatment Program, visit www.mdanderson.org/quitnow or call
articles in OncoLog, November-December 2012 issue:
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