Smoking and Cancer: How Does Smoking Affect Your Risk


Smoking is a well-known risk factor for various health problems, including cancer. Scientific research has shown that you inhale harmful chemicals when you smoke. These chemicals can damage your DNA and other genetic material, leading to the development of cancerous cells. This damage can occur in different body parts, including the lungs, mouth, throat, pancreas, bladder, kidney, cervix, and more.

Smoking is the primary cause of preventable death and disease worldwide. According to extensive research, it is responsible for an estimated death of 48,000 Canadians yearly. The cancer risks related to smoking depend on the type and amount of tobacco you use. It also depends on other factors like age, gender, and family.

There is no safe tobacco use level; your risk of developing cancer increases the more you smoke. This article will demystify cancer, explain the risks associated with smoking, and the other related factors that can contribute to you having cancer. Read till the end.

How Cancer Is Related to Smoking

There are several risk factors for cancer, and smoking is one of the vital ones. Smoking is one of the preventable causes of cancer in the world. It can cause cancer and even prevent your body from fighting it.

When you smoke cigarettes, the toxins that enter your body negatively affect your body. The toxins weaken your body’s immune system and make it harder to kill cancerous cells. The result of this is that cancer cells keep dividing and multiplying in your body without anything to stop them.

There is also another factor that we can consider, which is the effect of cigarette smoking on your DNA. When you smoke tobacco, your body becomes exposed to the toxins that are contained in it. These toxins can change or even cause total damage to your cell’s DNA. You should know that DNA is the instruction manual that controls your cells’ growth and function, making them grow and function normally. However, when your DNA becomes changed or utterly damaged, your cells can grow out of control, creating a cancer tumor.

Of the numerous types of cancer, the one which is most related to smoking is lung cancer. According to research, cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke (a combination of the smoke that someone breathes out and the smoke from the end of a burning cigarette) cause about nine in ten lung cancer deaths. This phenomenon is expected since the lungs are most impacted by smoking. Furthermore, people are at higher risk of lung cancer than five decades ago, even if they smoke less nowadays. The reason for this is the changes in how cigarettes are made and the added chemicals.

There are over 250 chemicals in cigarettes that can cause cancer. Some of these harmful chemicals include:

  • Acrolein: It is mainly used in polyester resins and herbicides. It is also used in tear gas and irritates the upper respiratory tract and eyes.
  • Benzene: Benzene is used in gasoline. It causes several types of cancers, including leukemia (blood cancer).
  • Cadmium: It is a popularly known carcinogen. It is used in metal coatings, pigments, and storage batteries and causes damage to the kidneys, liver, and brain.
  • Chromium: Chromium is used in wood preservatives, alloys, and metal plating. It is a widely known carcinogen that causes lung cancer.
  • Cresol: It is used in solvents, disinfectants, and wood preservatives. Acute inhalation of cresol can cause nasal, throat, and upper respiratory irritation.
  • Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is used in plywood, particleboard, and fiberboard. It causes nasal cancer and can damage the lungs, skin, and digestive system.
  • Lead: Lead is used in metal alloys and paints. It causes damage to the nerves, kidneys, and the human reproductive system. It is a formidable carcinogen and is particularly toxic to children.
  • Phenol: Phenol is used in resins in construction materials. It is harmful to the respiratory, cardiovascular, and central nervous systems.
  • Pyridine: It is used in solvents. It irritates the upper respiratory tract and eyes and can cause liver damage.
  • Quinoline: It is used as a solvent for resins. It is a carcinogen and causes harm to the liver, irritation to the eyes, and mutation of the genes.

As mentioned, smoking is not a risk factor for lung cancer alone but for several other types of cancer. It can cause cancer in many other parts of your body, including your:

  • Cervix
  • Bladder
  • Esophagus
  • Larynx
  • Liver
  • Pancreas
  • Stomach
  • Throat and mouth
  • Kidney
  • Lungs, trachea, and bronchi.

Furthermore, smokeless tobacco, including chewing tobacco, is also a cause of human cancer. It causes cancers of the:

  • Pancreas
  • Esophagus
  • Mouth and throat

How to Prevent Smoking-Related Cancers

The best method for preventing smoking-related cancer is to avoid smoking entirely or to quit smoking if you are already a smoker. When you avoid smoking cigarettes or quit altogether, you have a lower risk for some types of cancer.

Nonetheless, there are still cases of non-smokers developing smoking-related cancers. The primary causes of these are secondhand smoking and exposure to radon.

The following are other benefits of avoiding and quitting smoking altogether:

  • Your risk of mouth and throat cancer reduces by half within 5 to 10 years of quitting.
  • Your risk of esophagus, bladder, and kidney cancer reduces within ten years of quitting.
  • Your risk of lung cancer reduces by half within 10 to 15 years of quitting.
  • Your risk of getting cancer of the throat, mouth, or pancreas reduces to that of non-smokers within 20 years of quitting.
  • Your risk of getting cervical cancer reduces by half within 20 years of quitting.

Best Quitting Tips to Avoid Smoking-related Cancers

Now that you know that quitting is the best way to avoid smoking-related cancers, another major problem that you might have is implementing the change. Quitting is easier said than done, as several factors are involved in your addiction. However, the following tips will make the process easier for you:

  • Build a support network of family and friends who will always be there for you. You can also join support groups where you will find people like you, making you less burdened.
  • Lay down feasible plans to take care of triggers that might lead you back into smoking.
  • Fill your time with healthy activities that will serve as positive distractions from smoking.
  • It is best to quit slowly to avoid a severe relapse.

The Bottom Line

Smoking is one of the primary risk factors for cancer. It increases your risk of getting different types of cancers. Additionally, extensive research has shown that smokers are more likely to develop cancer at younger ages than non-smokers, and they usually develop cancers that are more aggressive and difficult to treat. But still, of all cancers, lung cancer kills more men and women every year.

Thankfully, better treatment methods are being discovered, which has helped to reduce the death toll significantly. Thus, to avoid the risk of developing cancer, you must quit smoking as soon as possible to guarantee a longer and healthier life.