What Cancers Can Smoking Cause Beyond Lung Cancer
Smoking, be it active or passive, exacerbates the risk of 12-15 types of cancers. While it is common knowledge that smoking causes lung cancer which is more common in women under 55 than men, it also makes women prone to cancers of the kidney, blood, cervix, and skin amongst others.
Apart from various smoke-exhaling tools like cigarettes, pipes, and kreteks, smokeless tobacco also carries the same types of risk.
- Women who smoke are 12 times more at risk of dying due to cancer of the lungs and trachea.
- Smokeless tobacco is very addictive and increases the risk of cancer of the head, neck, throat, and oro-facial cavity.
- As per the 4th edition 2021 WHO Global Report on Trends in Prevalence of Tobacco Use 2000-2025, the South-East Asia Region has achieved the fastest rate of decline in the use of tobacco. Smoking among SE Asian men has declined from 50% in 2000 to 25% in 2020 and smoking among women has declined steeply from 8.9% in 2000 to 1.6% in 2020.
- However, Globocan research shows that in countries like China, Indonesia, and some of the African countries, the incidence of cancers attributable to smoking – which is low right now - may rise shortly due to a sudden rise in younger men and women taking to the habit.
- Reportedly, women who smoke have twice the chances of getting cervical cancer as opposed to women who don’t smoke.
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How does smoking cause cancer?
Broadly put, smoking releases around 5,000 chemicals, from which at least 70 are harmful enough to cause illnesses that might develop due to cigarette smoking, the foremost among them being various types of cancer. These chemicals, known as carcinogens, attack the human DNA, and break down the parts of the DNA that provide natural resistance against cancer. Some chemicals make it difficult for cells to repair the damage in the DNA. These chemicals act as DNA disruptors that cause mutations leading to cancer.
Simply put, smoking causes immense reduction in our natural immunity, thus making us prone to cancers.
A commonly asked question is, how much smoking is too much when it comes to risking oneself with cancer? Well, smoking anything between 1 to 10 cigarettes per day is enough to put you on the risk curve. The difference between smokers lungs vs healthy lungs is stark.
Read more : Are Women More Prone To Cancer Than Men?
Types of cancer caused by smoking
While men have been historically more susceptible to getting lung cancer due to smoking, the tables have turned in recent times with an increasing number of women getting afflicted by this disease.
This is especially true of women in the age bracket of 30 to 49. However, there are also other cancers linked to smoking that women risk getting afflicted with due to smoking.
Let us have a look at those.
1. Cervical Cancer
Carcinogens in the smoke damage the DNA of the cells of the cervix, thus making it susceptible to precancerous lesions or cervical cancer. Smoking also attacks the immune system of the body, thus making it easy for infections that spread via HPV-16 and HPV-18 (viruses that cause cervical cancer), to make room in the woman’s body.
2. Vulval Cancer
Cancer of the vulva occurs mostly in women over the age of 70. However, strong evidence suggests that majority of these women are those who have been active or passive smokers in their lifetime. Vulvar cancer is particularly possible in smoking women who have a history of HPV-related infections and/or cervical cancer. Higher the level of HPV infection, greater is the chance of vulval cancer.
3. Colon cancer
Studies show that women who smoke are 20% more likely to get cancer of the colon, compared to women who don’t smoke. They are especially likely to get proximal colon cancer, one that is more attributable to smoking. Incidence of colon cancer owing to smoking, is increasing at a faster rate than that in men.
4. Breast Cancer
There are several other factors like obesity, genetics, and age that increase the risk of breast cancer more than smoking does. The mammary tissue is capable of sustaining many types of harmful chemicals it gets exposed to.
However, that does not obliterate the fact that smoking has been seen to increase the incidence of hormone receptive positive breast cancer.
The chances of getting breast cancer due to smoking gets heightened if a woman has been smoking from a young age, been smoking heavily, and has been smoking especially before her first pregnancy. Women who start smoking for a decade before their first pregnancy have a 18% higher risk of getting breast cancer.
5. Ovarian Cancer
Till recent times, no strong direct evidence was available to show a link between smoking and ovarian cancer. However, recent research has shown that passive smoking puts a woman at more risk for getting ovarian cancer, than active smoking does.
The risk gets further enhanced if the woman has been exposed to passive smoke in her childhood. As for active smoking, women are thrice at risk for developing the mucinous type of ovarian cancer, and five times more at risk for developing epithelial ovarian cancer due to smoking.
6. Skin Cancer
While the better news is that smoking is not known to cause the deadliest form of skin cancer aka melanoma, the bad part is that it does lead to the second most-common form of skin cancer aka squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). SCC is a slow-growing form of cancer which unlike other skin cancers, can spread to tissues, bones and lymph nodes. Smoking has been found to raise the risk of acquiring SCC by 50%, even after you kick the habit. Passive smoking women are also at risk for SCC of the head and neck.
Apart from these, smoking can cause several other cancers such as those of the pancreas, blood, larynx, and stomach. However, these can ail both the genders. Skin cancer also can affect both genders but for aesthetic reasons, it can affect a woman’s psyche more than men.
All in all, smoking is a big risk-carrier for various cancers. It is best to not develop a habit of active smoking (or stop it if you have the same, as soon as possible), and to save yourself from getting exposed to passive smoking.
If you are or have been an active or passive smoker, it is advisable to get yourself duly checked for the aforementioned cancers from health professionals. Tests like Pap Smear, HPV Test, Colorectal screening, Mammograms, and Spiral CT can help detect the presence of the lurking cancer and enable you to start treatment before the cancer becomes fatal.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/tobacco_related_mortality/index.htm
- World Health Organization – https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tobacco
- World Health Organization – https://www.who.int/southeastasia/news/detail/17-11-2021-persistent-efforts-by-countries-driving-steep-decline-in-tobacco-use-in-south-east-asia-region-who
- American Cancer Society Journals – https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3322/caac.21660
- Cancer Research UK – https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/smoking-and-cancer/how-does-smoking-cause-cancer#:~:text=Chemicals%20from%20cigarettes%20damage%20DNA,time%20that%20leads%20to%20cancer.
- American Cancer Society – https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/study-young-women-now-have-higher-rate-for-lung-cancer-than-men-worldwide.html
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center –https://www.mskcc.org/news/how-do-cigarettes-cause-cancer
- National Library of Medicine – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31848186/
- American Cancer Society – https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cervical-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html#:~:text=Women%20who%20smoke%20are%20about,the%20development%20of%20cervical%20cancer.
- WebMD – https://www.webmd.com/melanoma-skin-cancer/melanoma-guide/squamous-cell-carcinoma#1
- Bio Med Central – https://journalotohns.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40463-019-0357-4
- US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5585941/
- American Cancer Society – https://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/breast-cancer-facts-and-figures/breast-cancer-facts-and-figures-2019-2020.pdf
- International Journal of Epidemiology – https://academic.oup.com/ije/article-abstract/50/3/965/6153945?redirectedFrom=fulltext
- WebMD – https://www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/news/20000210/smoking-now-linked-type-ovarian-cancer#:~:text=The%20study%20revealed%20that%20women,this%20type%2C%20according%20to%20Marchbanks.