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Smoking causes cancers in other parts of the body too; is it true?

Although the scientific revelation between the causal correlation between smoking and lung cancer has now arguably become “common knowledge, many people seem unaware that lung cancer is not the only cancer that smokers become susceptible to. Smoking is known to cause at least 15 different types of cancer: lung, larynx, oesophagus, oral cavity, nasopharynx, pharynx, bladder, pancreas, kidney, liver, stomach, bowel, cervix, leukaemia, and ovarian cancers (and more). [1]

These cancers can be just as common as other forms of cancer; smoking is accounted for at least 75% of cancers of the larynx (vocal cords). [2]

Each puff of each cigarette contains a mixture of thousands of compounds, including more than 60 well-established carcinogens. In fact, smoke from tobacco combustion contains numerous harmful chemicals, including, but not limited to, carbon monoxide, nicotine, nitrogen oxides and cadmium Poisons in tobacco smoke can damage or change a cell’s DNA.With DNA functions as the cellular “instruction manual”, it controls a cells normal growth and function. [3] Carcinogens form covalent bonds with DNA which accumulate to cause permanent mutations in critical genes. By damaging these genes, it can no longer regulate itself, triggering the formation of malignant tumours. These genes can affect the functioning of a multitude of organs whether it be the bladder or the voice box. 

It’s these toxins in cigarette smoke which can weaken the body’s immune system, and both its innate and adaptive response. [4] This makes it harder to not only respond opportunistic diseases but also to less likely to provide a full immune response against cancers. making it harder to kill cancer cells. When this happens, cancer cells grow uncontrollably. Growing evidence has indicated the positive association of cigarette smoking with abnormality of innate immune responses although the potential mechanisms are still poorly understood.

One worrying statistic is certainly that smoking is a consistent environmental risk factor for the development of pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Pancreatic adenocarcinoma is one of the leading causes of cancer death in the world. This cancer is particularly aggressive because not only can it metastasise early but also it is often identified at significantly later stages. With it being particularly difficult to treat, the global healthcare profession arguably just do not have the tools to effectively diagnose and treat pancreatic cancer currently which only makes smoking a more dangerous activity. Yet, as early detection and treatment is slowly beginning to be implemented in all sectors of healthcare, especially within primary care providers to improve the case fatality rate of pancreatic cancer.

It’s important for both healthcare assistants and the general public to be aware of the clear correlation between smoking and cancer, not just lung cancer. Next time you take a puff, don’t just think about lung cancer – there are many more organs at risk. Remember, it’s never too late to stop smoking ;the body begins to repair 20 minutes after your last smoke reducing the risks of smoking from thereafter. [5]

References:

  1. NHS Choices. “Smoking Causes Half of All Deaths in 12 Different Cancers – NHS,” June 18, 2015. https://www.nhs.uk/news/cancer/smoking-causes-half-of-all-deaths-in-12-different-cancers/.
  2. Cancer.org. American Cancer Society, 2015. https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/study-smoking-causes-almost-half-of-deaths-from-12-cancer-types.html. 
  3. “What Chemicals Are In Cigarette Smoke?” www.medicalnewstoday.com, n.d. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/215420#1.
  4. “How Does the Immune System Work?” Cancer Research Institute, 2019. https://www.cancerresearch.org/blog/april-2019/how-does-the-immune-system-work-cancer.
  5. “What Happens after You Stop Smoking: A Timeline.” www.lifehealthcare.co.za. Accessed May 26, 2020. https://www.lifehealthcare.co.za/news-and-info-hub/latest-news/can-you-body-heal-after-smoking/.

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