Most people know that smoking is harmful to health. Despite this, it remains a very popular habit throughout the world. According to the latest statistics, one in five adults still smoke, with men more likely to indulge than women.
While many ignore the risks of smoking and the negative press, it is thought to contribute to some 8 million deaths each year. Along with alcohol, it remains one of the biggest preventable risk factors that contribute to developing diseases such as cancer.
SMOKING AND CANCER
Smoking is the main risk factor associated with several cancers. It’s not surprising when you consider that just one small puff of smoke contains thousands of harmful chemicals. At least 69 of these have been demonstrated to have a direct link to cancer.
The good news is that the body begins to repair itself just 6 hours after smoking a cigarette for the last time and the risk of getting cancer reduces after this.
CANCERS LINKED WITH SMOKING
Smoking has been linked to 16 different types of cancer, some with greater risk than others. For example, stopping smoking greatly reduces your risk of developing lung cancer.
Smoking is the leading preventable cause of lung cancer and, in the USA alone, it is linked to 80-90% of lung cancer deaths.
Lung cancer remains one of the most serious conditions and the prognosis is often compounded by the lack of symptoms in the early stages of the disease which make it difficult to get an early diagnosis.
The research suggests that if people didn’t smoke at all, lung cancer would be a much rarer condition indeed.
More than 53,000 people are diagnosed with oral cavity or oropharyngeal cancer in the USA each year and 1 in 5 will die because of it. While rarer than lung cancer, mouth cancer has several different risk factors associated with it.
Some 80% of people diagnosed with oral cancer are smokers or use tobacco for chewing. For people who both drink alcohol regularly and smoke, the risk can be even higher.
More than 80,000 new cases of bladder cancer are diagnosed each year and the primary risk factor is smoking. An individual is three times more likely to develop the disease if they are a regular smoker and men have a higher vulnerability than women.
A quarter of diagnosed cases of pancreatic cancer are thought to be caused by smoking. According to the current research, an individual that smokes is twice as likely to develop the disease compared to someone who has never smoked.
The good news is that the risk of developing pancreatic cancer drops dramatically once the individual stops smoking.
The liver is responsible for getting rid of toxins in the body and is a vital organ that can easily be damaged by poor lifestyle choices. In the USA, some 30,000 people die from liver cancer each year, with men affected twice as much as women.
It’s thought that a fifth of liver cancer cases are caused by long-term smoking. When an individual combines heavy drinking with smoking, their risk is greatly increased.
CANCER OF THE LARYNX
Cancer of the larynx (the voicebox) affects more than 10,000 people each year in the USA, the majority being men. Both alcohol and tobacco are big risk factors in the development of this disease.
An individual who smokes 25 cigarettes a day for 40 years could see their risk of getting cancer of the larynx increase by as much as 40 times.
There are more than 27,000 new cases of stomach cancer in the US each year and the average age at diagnosis is 65. Smoking doubles the risk of developing the disease and other factors such as poor diet and being overweight can also contribute.
HOW DOES SMOKING INCREASE THE RISK OF CANCER?
The combination of thousands of different chemicals in tobacco affects the human body in several ways. It can, for example, alter our DNA. Benzopyrene which is present in cigarette smoke damages the DNA that is responsible for protecting cells from cancer.
Other chemicals in smoke can interfere with how our cells repair DNA damage. If a mutation occurs that may lead to a cancer tumour, these chemicals may ensure that the cancer continues to develop rather than being repaired.
Smoking remains the biggest preventable risk factor that can lead to several cancers. Stopping smoking will have a significant impact on the potential for developing a life-threatening disease such as lung or mouth cancer, whatever the age of the individual or how long they have been using tobacco for.