Can Smoking or Chewing Tobacco Cause Cancer, Is It a Myth?


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Evidence Based - Facts Checked

This content is medically reviewed by Dr. Isha Jaiswal (MD RADIATION ONCOLOGIST) and written by Puneet Utreja

Last Medical Review Date - 26th September 2020


There have been multiple successful studies conducted to establish a link between tobacco and cancer. Various studies prove that tobacco causes cancers of the pharynx, larynx, lungs, kidney, pancreas, esophagus, stomach, kidney, cervix, lung, acute myeloid leukemia, bladder, and oral cavity1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US). (2004, January 01) 'Cancer'  Source. As per a WHO report, approximately 5 million people die because of tobacco smoking2WHO (2008)  'Report on Global Tobacco Epidemic'  Source

TOBACCO CURING PROCESS

Quick Fact - How Does Tobacco Turn into a Cancer-Causing Agent?

Nicotiana tabacum is a plant from which tobacco is processed. Nicotine is an active constituent in it. Tobacco leaves after harvesting are allowed to undergo a slow oxidation process which is called curing. It’s the curing process which makes tobacco a cancer-causing agent (carcinogenic)3Furrukh, M. (2013, August) 'Tobacco Smoking and Lung Cancer: Perception-changing facts' Source

Is there a Formulation of Tobacco which I can Consume and It May Not Cause Cancer?

Irrespective of the form in which you consume tobacco, chewing gum, cigarette, snuffing etc., it is bound to cause damage to your body and cause cancer. With regular consumption of tobacco over a period of time, your body becomes susceptible to develop carcinogenic cells (Cancer-causing cells). In developing countries, consumption of dried tobacco and areca nut mixture, is increasing the cases of oral cancer amongst the youth4Niaz, K., Maqbool, F., Khan, F., Bahadar, H., Ismail Hassan, F., & Abdollahi, M. (2017, March 09) 'Smokeless tobacco (paan and gutkha) consumption, prevalence, and contribution to oral cancer'  Source

With how many Cigarettes a Day Can I Get Cancer?

The following graph shows the susceptibility level of an individual to cancer based on the frequency of smoking. Individuals smoking 20 plus cigarettes per day are on a higher risk of suffering from cancer. Further, individuals smoking less than ten cigarettes a day are also at a comparative risk of suffering from cancer.

How Does Smoking, Snuffing or Chewing Tobacco Cause Cancer?

Tobacco and Cancer

Each puff of tobacco smoke or chew consists of thousands of chemical compounds out of which around 60 are known carcinogens5Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US). (2004, January 01) 'Cancer'  Source

Metabolic Changes Leading to Activation of Carcinogens

These carcinogens alone can not cause cancer in the body. When enzymes (Cytochrome P-450 enzyme) present in the human body, come in contact with these carcinogens (inhaled through smoking, tobacco chew, snuff etc.), it helps in attaching the carcinogens to the DNA.

The bind between carcinogen and DNA is called as DNA adducts, and the process is known as Metabolic Activation.

Changes in the DNA leading to mutation because of Carcinogens

Once the DNA adducts are formed and not excreted from the body, it leads to changes in the DNA structure (DNA miscoding by insertion of wrong base). The difference in the DNA structure leads to the mutation of the gene.

Mutation of Gene and Cancer

The mutation of the genes leads to loss of normal cell growth function and hence results into cancer.

I have Been Smoking, Snuffing or Chewing Tobacco Since Years and Still haven’t Got cancer?

Tobacco and Cancer

Post smoking, chewing tobacco, snuffing, using electric cigar, metabolic changes may lead to the formation of carcinogenic cells in the body which bind itself to the DNA. The body’s cell repair mechanism repairs the DNA6Furrukh, M. (2013, August) 'Tobacco Smoking and Lung Cancer: Perception-changing facts' Source and prevents it from mutation. Till the time, the body’s cell repair mechanism prevents mutation in the genes you will not have cancer.

I have never smoked, but still developed oral cancer?

Oral Cancer is not caused only by smoking. There are multiple factors associated with developing oral cancer.

Genetic Factor – The presence of oncogenes in the body poses a risk for developing oral cancer

Environmental Factors – Obesity, Diet, Hormonal Imbalance, Alcohol, HPV Infection, Metabolic Syndromes, Ionizing Radiations exposes the human body to chances of developing cancer.


Is there an increased risk of cancer in females who smoke over male smokers?

Various epidemiological studies have proved that women smokers are at a higher risk of developing lung cancer7Aage Haugen( 2002, February), 'Women who smoke: are women more susceptible to tobacco-induced lung cancer?, Carcinogenesis' Volume 23, Issue 2, Pages 227–229 Source than their male counterparts

Can passive smoking lead to cancer?

Yes, passive tobacco smoking can also lead to cancer. A passive tobacco smoker inhales the same carcinogens which an active smoker does.  The most common form of cancer known to happen in passive smokers is Lung cancer however, studies8Office on Smoking and Health (US). (2006, January 01). 'Cancer Among Adults from Exposure to Secondhand Smoke' Source are being conducted to study the extent of damage on the other organs of the body. As per the available data, it is estimated that around 3400 deaths due to lung cancer  in passive smokers happen every year in the United States

If I quit smoking, am I still at risk of Developing Cancer?

Quitting smoking is not easy. It requires great effort, and the individual who has achieved it can only understand the dedication and will power it needs to do so. Well, quitting smoking may not make you 100% immune to cancer however the life expectancy increases by 10 more years compared to a smoker, and the probability of developing cancer shall be the same as that of a non-smoker9Taylor, D. H., Hasselblad, V., Henley, S. J., Thun, M. J., & Sloan, F. A. (2002, June) 'Benefits of smoking cessation for longevity'  Source. Further, if an individual quits smoking before the age of 40, the chances of dying because of cancer reduces by 90%.

I was an oral cancer patient and have been cured by the treatment. Can I smoke 1 cigarette a day?

First of all getting cured in cancer is a blessing. However every former cancer patients has some chance of getting the disease back which is called relapse or recurrence.  That’s is why patients are asked to keep a follow up with their primary oncologist. Hence it is advisable to not smoke once treated of cancer because it increases the chances of recurrence due similar pro-carcinogenic effect of tobacco.

Signs & Symptoms to Detect Cancer Due to Smoking, Snuffing or Chewing Tobacco

Following are some of the early signs and symptoms to detect cancer:-

  • Abnormal Mole
  • Rectal Bleeding
  • Hematuria
  • Lower Urinary Tract Infection
  • Changes in bowel movement habit
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in voice
  • Lump in neck
  • Cough
  • Unexplained loss of weight
  • Chest Infection
  • Back pain
  • Dyspnea

Please consult an oncologist to confirm the diagnosis. Remember, early diagnosis10Hiom, S. C. (2015, March 31) 'Diagnosing cancer earlier: Reviewing the evidence for improving cancer survival' Source helps in increasing the survival rate of the patient 

Understanding If You are Addicted To Tobacco and are At a Risk of Suffering from Cancer

You have indeed become addicted to tobacco in case if you find correlate with any of the below-mentioned habits:-

  • You are smoking more than one full cigarette pack daily
  • You can not sleep in the night without smoking.
  • You tend to smoke within the first five minutes of walking.
  • You light up a cigarette for fighting the overwhelming withdrawal symptoms.
  • You can not resist smoke even if you are suffering from respiratory tract infections.

How To Quit Smoking and Prevent Cancer

Once you decide on quitting tobacco, you might have to face numerous situations wherein the addictiveness of tobacco will try to overpower your determination. Further, the withdrawal symptoms shall make it additionally difficult for you to quit smoking.

  • Talk to your doctor regarding quitting smoking. He/she can help you with medications such as varenicline that will aid in quitting smoking
  • To overcome anxiety, gradually taper down the consumption of tobacco in a day. This will also help in managing the withdrawal symptoms.
  • Join motivational and focused discussion groups that will empower you to consistently, work on quitting the consumption of tobacco.

Takeaway

The cancer-causing elements present in tobacco are one of the most significant factors why doctors and health practitioners advocate a tobacco-free life. Thus, it makes sense to stay away from all tobacco products and eventually decrease the chances of developing carcinogenic cells in your body. Further, if notice any of the discussed noticeable symptoms in your body, consult an oncologist without any delay. Also, consider these symptoms as more significant reasons to quit smoking.

Reference

  1. 1
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US). (2004, January 01).
    Cancer
    Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53010/
  2. 2
    WHO (2008)
    Report on Global Tobacco Epidemic
    Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://www.who.int/tobacco/mpower/mpower_report_full_2008.pdf
  3. 3
    Furrukh, M. (2013, August).
    Tobacco Smoking and Lung Cancer: Perception-changing facts
    Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3749017/
  4. 4
    Niaz, K., Maqbool, F., Khan, F., Bahadar, H., Ismail Hassan, F., & Abdollahi, M. (2017, March 09).
    Smokeless tobacco (paan and gutkha) consumption, prevalence, and contribution to oral cancer.
    Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543298
  5. 5
    Aage Haugen( 2002, February),
    Women who smoke: are women more susceptible to tobacco-induced lung cancer?, Carcinogenesis,
    Volume 23, Issue 2, Pages 227–229, Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://doi.org/10.1093/carcin/23.2.227
  6. 6
    Office on Smoking and Health (US). (2006, January 01).
    Cancer Among Adults from Exposure to Secondhand Smoke.
    Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK44330/
  7. 7
    Taylor, D. H., Hasselblad, V., Henley, S. J., Thun, M. J., & Sloan, F. A. (2002, June).
    Benefits of smoking cessation for longevity.
    Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447499/
  8. 8
    Hiom, S. C. (2015, March 31).
    Diagnosing cancer earlier: Reviewing the evidence for improving cancer survival.
    Retrieved September 27, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4385969/

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This content is only for educational purpose and should not be considered as a substitute for your Physician's/Doctor's clinical judgement

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