#1 Preventable Cause of Cancer: Tobacco
Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of cancer. If no one smoked, it would prevent one in three cancers in the world today. Second hand smoke also increases the risks for non-smokers.
The harmful consequences of tobacco
There is a definite link between smoking and the development of many types of cancers, including lung cancer.
But that’s not all. Tobacco also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and lung disease. It also reduces fertility. On average, a smoker lives fifteen years less than a non-smoker.
Quitting smoking is the best way to prevent cancer. Other health benefits can be added to this even at a relatively advanced age.
Since 2012, smoking cessation help has been included in many health care plans. Strong and continuous support during cessation has been shown to very effective in improving the chances of success. Your family doctor, gynecologist (in the context of pregnancy) or a specialist can all help you. The same is true of psychologists. Tobacco specialists are professionals who have undergone special additional training to support people who want to quit smoking.
Many foundations against cancer also offer services to anyone wishing to quit smoking.
The effects of smoking
Second hand smoke (being around someone who smokes) can also cause lung cancer or cardiovascular diseases. In pregnant women, second hand smoke increases the risk of premature birth, reduces the baby’s birth weight and can also promote asthma.
The consequences of tobacco and smoking behavior on our health are now well known. Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death. On average, a smoker lives fifteen years less than a non-smoker. Out of four smokers, two die prematurely from tobacco, including one in at mid age.
Tobacco is the number one cause of lung cancer. It is responsible for 90% of the cases. Lung cancer is rare in non-smokers. Less than 1% of non-smokers develop lung cancer. 2nd hand smoke increases the risk of lung cancer in non-smokers by 20%.
Tobacco also increases the risk of cancer in the head and neck area (e.g. larynx and esophagus), stomach, intestine, liver, pancreas, kidney, bladder, cervix and uterus.
Combined with alcohol excess, tobacco greatly increases the risk of cancer in the region of the head and neck (i.e. mouth, vocal cords and esophagus).
The positive effects of stopping smoking on health are noticeably felt physically. After just one year, the risk of cardiovascular disease drops to half. After five years, the likelihood of oral cancer is also halved. After ten years, the risk of lung cancer is only twice that of a non-smoker. This should be very encouraging to anyone wishing to quit as there is short term gain as well as long term gain. It is really never too late to quit smoking.
Scientific research is also still constantly providing new information concerning the harmful consequences of tobacco.
It is a well-documented fact that tobacco causes lung cancer. Out of ten patients with lung cancer, tobacco is the cause of the disease in nearly nine of the ten cases. There are some indications that women develop lung cancer with less exposure to cigarettes than men. This is probably due to hormonal factors.
Tobacco smoke damages and irritates the bronchi cells, which can no longer remove the mucus produced normally. Soon after, a cough becomes the only remedy for removing mucus and the tobacco particles from the lungs. Over time, the constant irritation will deeply transform the cells and the lining of the bronchi and also carry the risk of developing cancer.
Lung cancer remains more common in men. In the male population, the disease occurs mainly starting at the age of 65. Women are struck earlier, from the age of 55. In 2015, lung cancer has killed more women than men. Lung cancer is likely to eventually become the leading cause of cancer death in women, followed by breast cancer.
In non-smokers, lung cancer is rare; less than 1% of non-smokers die from lung cancer. However, those exposed to second hand smoke are a much greater risk to develop lung cancer than other non-smokers. Therefore, it is recommended to non-smokers to avoid staying indoors if someone is smoking in your entourage. Politely asking for the smoker to smoke outside, opening windows to allow air circulation or deciding that instead you will go outside for a few minutes are all good options to consider when confronted with the situation
Mouth, throat, esophagus and larynx cancer
Cancerous tumors of the mouth, tongue, throat, esophagus and larynx are also more common in smokers. Oral cancer, for example, strikes two to four times more smokers than non-smokers. The risk increases even more when smoking is combined with regular alcohol consumption (three drinks a day or more) and poor oral hygiene.
They often occur after the age of 50 and like lung cancer, it is women who are more affected than men.
Stomach and liver cancer
Scientific research has shown that smoking increases the risk of stomach and liver cancer as well. The disease occurs more often in men than in women in this case, and usually occurs after their sixtieth birthday.
Liver cancer strikes more than 500 people each year, the majority of whom are men. The diagnosis is usually made after the age of sixty for men; for women it happens a decade later.
The risk factors for pancreatic cancer are not well understood. Tobacco is most likely a leading cause as smokers are twice as often affected as non-smokers.
In Belgium for example, every year, there is more than 1500 people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This type of cancer strikes both sexes equally, often after the age of sixty.
Kidney and bladder cancer
A smoker is 1.5 times more likely to develop kidney cancer than a non-smoker. This cancer occurs more often in men than in women, at all ages, but especially between 55 and 75 years old.
Tobacco is the main risk factor for bladder cancer as well. Bladder cancer is four times more common in men than in women. It usually occurs after the age of sixty. In ten men who succumb to bladder cancer, tobacco is the cause for 5 of them. For women, the statistic is slightly better but far from good; one of three cases succumb due to tobacco.
In practice, it has been observed that cervical cancer is more common in smokers than in non-smokers. The human papilloma virus (HPV) plays a role in the development of this form of cancer. Ultimately, chronic HPV infection can lead to precancerous anomalies of the cervix. Usually, the body sheds these abnormal cells, but if this is not successful, the cells in question will eventually become cancerous. Because tobacco affects the immune system, it is more difficult for the body to get rid of an HPV infection. Each year in France, around 200 cancers of the cervix are diagnosed, often after the age of fifty.
Vulvar cancer is also more common in smokers. As in the case of cervix cancer, the human papilloma virus is implicated, and because tobacco affects the immune system, similarly to the cancer f the cervix, it is more difficult for the body to get rid of an HPV infection.
Acute myeloid leukemia
Tobacco is involved in one out of five cases of acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The carcinogens in tobacco smoke ends up in the bloodstream where they cause most of the damage. In Sweden for example, around 350 people are diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia every year. This type of cancer is more common in adult men.
Smokers also develop more keratosis (thickenings of the skin), which can then progress to skin cancer.
In women, both smokers and those exposed to second hand smoke have an increased risk of developing breast cancer. However, the severity and the direct impact of second hand smoke results need further research for an accurate statistic.
Similar to breast cancer, the risk of developing colorectal cancer is present in both active smokers and those exposed to second smoke. Here again more research is required to calculate the exact impact from 2nd hand smoke.
In conclusion, anyone wishing to quit smoking but is not sure that there is a real benefit to it or does not think smoking presents a real danger, can simply go over the statistics collected over the last few decades to have an answer. No one should be forced to make a decision, but everyone should be aware and have access to the available information to make a conscious decision.