Years of research and tons of evidence zero down on tobacco smoking as the most significant risk factor for lung cancer. Smoking and cancer are thickly interlinked. There is no room for doubt about the cancer risk increased by cancer.
The quantum of your risk increases with the dose; that is with the number of cigarettes you smoke every day and the number of years you have been smoking.
If you have started smoking at a young age (say in your teens), you will be at higher risk later in life. In general, the risk of lung cancer begins to increase at about age 40 and peaks after age 70 years.
People who don’t smoke or those who have smoked less than 100 cigarettes in their life have less than a 1% risk of developing lung cancer.
Regular smokers have a 14% chance of developing lung cancer at some time in their lifetime – a higher risk of more than 10 times. However, genetics also plays an important role, smoking alone cannot be the only factor.
Studies show that approximately 15 to 20% of lung cancer patients have never smoked. Some nonsmokers develop lung cancer due to exposure to secondhand smoke, while in others, causes are not found.
According to Anthony J. Alberg, Ph.D., MPH, a cancer epidemiologist at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, “Cigarette smoking is estimated to cause almost one-half of all cancer deaths in the United States.”
Tobacco smoke that you inhale from a lit cigarette contains more than 4,000 chemicals, every one of which is toxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic. Mutagenic toxins cause undesirable DNA changes in your genes, while carcinogenic toxins cause cancer. They convert the normal cell into a cancer cell.
Tobacco smoke or cigarette smoke is 10,000 times more concentrated with pollutants than automobile pollution during rush hour on the freeway. With this kind of exposure, smokers are at the highest risk of developing cancer, which is usually fatal. About 10% of smokers die of cancer.
Cigarette smoking also lowers your body’s defenses increasing your cancer risk and making it that much more difficult for the body’s immune system to fight the cancer cells. Smoking tobacco also makes the progression of cancer faster and treatment less effective.
It also increases the inflammation level in your body, which in itself is a major risk factor for many health diseases including cancer.
How much is the cancer risk from smoking?
The cancer risk from cigarette smoking is high but how high it is, depends on the number of cigarettes you smoke.
A regular smoker has a 25 times greater risk of lung cancer and 2 times greater risk of bladder cancer when compared to a non-smoker.
Lung cancer kills more people than any other cancer. Secondhand smoke is also dangerous and kills and more than 7,300 people who do not smoke. Secondhand smoke is the smoke that comes from the burning end of the cigarette and the smoke breathed out by the smoker.
Pipe and cigar smoking and cancer risk
Pipe and cigar smoking are high-risk factors of cancer. The risk, however, is less than that for cigarettes, but still quite substantial.
As compared to nonsmokers, pipe and cigar smokers have a 5 times greater risk of developing lung cancer.
The lung cancer risk of smoking pipes and cigars, though substantial, is less than the lung cancer risk caused by cigarette smoking.
The reason for this lowered cancer risk is that pipe and cigar smokers tend to smoke less frequently, and they also inhale less deeply. That the cancer risk is directly proportional to exposure to tobacco smoke is abundantly clear.
Risk of cancer in former smokers who have quit
If you’ve been a smoker and have quit the butt, your risk of developing cancer falls considerably but still remains higher than a nonsmoker.
Smoking damages nearly every organ in the body. Some of this damage is reversible while some is not.
When you stop smoking, exposure to all the cancer-causing chemicals stops and your overall health improves including your defenses that help fight cancer.
There is 2013 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, according to which:
- Smokers lose at least ten years of life expectancy, as compared with nonsmokers.
- If you stop smoking before the age of 40 years, you reduce the risk of premature death due to regular smoking by about 90%.
- If you stop smoking by age 54 years, you reduce your chances of premature cancer death by about two-thirds.
What about the risk of other cancers due to smoking?
Besides lung cancer, smoking can cause any type of cancer anywhere in your body. If you stop smoking, you reduce the risk of not just lung cancer but also the risk for 12 types of cancer. They include cancers of the lung, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, pancreas, bladder, stomach, colon and rectum, liver, cervix, kidney, and acute myeloid leukemia
Within 5-10 years of quitting, your risk of developing cancer of the mouth, throat, or voice box and lungs is reduced by 50%.
Within 20 years after you quit smoking, your risk of getting cancer of the mouth, throat, voice box, or pancreas is as much as that of a nonsmoker. Additionally, the risk of cervical cancer drops by about 50%.
Tips to smokers to reduce cancer risk
If you are a smoker, quit smoking stat. You can quit smoking naturally on your own. The benefits of giving up smoking are tremendous. You can’t quit smoking by gradually reducing it. It has to be sudden. If you are not able to quit, then pursue the following advice.
A heavy smoker who started smoking at a young age should have annual lung cancer screenings for at least 15 years. Screening involves low-dose CT Scans, which have a low cancer risk. This will help to catch cancer early, start treatment promptly and improve chances of a good prognosis and survival.
Additionally, follow these tips:
- Stay well-nourished.
- Eat foods that increase your immunity and contain a lot of antioxidants.
- Stick to the anti-cancer diet, which contains cancer-fighting foods.
- Exercise every single day.
- At least try to cut down on smoking if you can’t quit.