Smoking is now famously bad for you. You can’t smoke anywhere public in most industrialized countries in the world. In many countries, cigarette packs have gruesome pictures on the front illustrating all the horrible things that will happen to you if you smoke. And yet there are still people who deny the horrible effects of smoking on health. Today we are going to look at the effect that smoking cigarettes has on the risk of getting cancer. However, this is by far not the only risk that smokers expose themselves to. Smoking increases the risk of heart disease and strokes, endangers fertility and is terrible for the health of the bones and of your lungs (in terms of pneumonia and chest infections rather as well as lung cancer) and a variety of other health issues.
Smoking is linked to cancer on two separate levels. First of all, almost by definition smokers suck smoke into their lungs. Smoke contains tar and other heavy chemicals
which build up in the lungs. Lungs are made up of hundreds of thousands of small pockets of thin tissue called alveoli. Alveoli look somewhat like small bunches of grapes and inflate with air when you inhale. When they fill up with vaporized tar and other heavy chemicals, the cells that line the alveoli (which are known as endothelial cells) become highly inflamed. Inflammation is the first stepping stone towards cancer formation. As they are being constantly damaged, cells that line the alveoli need to constantly multiply to patch up the parts of the endothelium that have been damaged. Cells that multiply more often than they are supposed to are also at the highest risk of forming a tumor. In fact, every time they divide they need to duplicate their DNA – which is where random mutation happens and originates cancer. This is why smoking exponentially increases the risk of lung cancer.
The second layer of cigarette-induced cancer risk is to do with nicotine. Nicotine is a compound that is contained in tobacco products and is what makes smoking so addictive. This is why people who stop smoking often need the help of nicotine patches or gum in order to slowly starve off the cravings. However, nicotine is also a very powerful toxin. Eating the equivalent of 5 cigarettes (or 60 mg of nicotine) would be fatal for most people. Just like all toxins, nicotine severely damages the tissues it comes into contact with. When tissues are damaged, the immune system is alerted and tries to contain the damage, leading to – that’s right – inflammation. And when the tissue is trying to repair itself cells cells within the tissue need to multiply in order to patch up the hole – which as we’ve seen is a key ingredient in the formation of a tumor. This means that smoking affects the risk of cancer in all parts of the body, even when they are nowhere near the lung, throat or neck. For example, smoking increases the risk of breast cancer by over 30% and smokers are over 40% more likely to experience prostate cancer relapse.
In conclusion, stop smoking. These days, smoke cessation is a science and stop-smoking programs have a very high rate of success. On the bright side, all these effects have been shown to stop or be dramatically reduced after patients stop smoking.