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Smoking and Cancer
Cancer forms when part of a cell's DNA is damaged. The abnormal cell multiplies uncontrollably, along with the faulty genetic material. Usually the body is able to destroy abnormal cells, recognizing them as dangerous, but with cancer cells the immune system does not recognize the abnormal cells as foreign. Cancer cells can develop into a tumor. They also have the ability to metastasize, or spread.
Tobacco smoke contains at least 250 harmful chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. Smoking and even being exposed to second hand smoke are lifestyle factors that can contribute to the development and growth of cancer. While most people are familiar with the link between lung cancer and smoking, there are other types of cancer caused by cigarette use. In fact it is estimated that 30 percent of cancer cases can be attributed to smoking. Why is tobacco smoke such a problem?
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Why Smoking Cigarettes Can Raise Your Risk
Introducing known carcinogens into the body, such as cadmium, benzene and arsenic, exposure to tobacco smoke can increase the production of free radicals. While unchecked free radicals are not necessarily the cause of cancer, free radicals do cause cell damage. Smoking also weakens the immune system, which may make it less likely for the body to destroy precancerous cells.
According to a 2008 article in Science Daily, researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University Cancer Institute discovered a direct link between smoking and lung cancer. The production of the protein FANCD2 is inhibited when lung cells are exposed to cigarette smoke. FANCD2 naturally helps to prevent cancer by repairing damage to a cell's DNA and causing damaged cells to die. When levels of this protein are low, lung cell DNA becomes damaged and cells may become cancerous.
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Smoking and Lung Cancer
Cigarette smoking is most directly linked to lung cancer. Over 80 percent of lung cancer cases are believed to be caused by tobacco smoke. According to the National Lung Cancer Partnership there are about 219,000 new cases of lung cancer each year in America alone. 84 percent of those diagnosed will die within five years. The link between smoking and lung cancer is striking, and perhaps enough of a reason for many smokers to consider giving up the habit — quitting smoking greatly reduces the risk of developing cancer and heart disease.
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List of Cancers Affected by Tobacco Use
Cigarette smoking introduces known carcinogens into the lungs, but smoke also comes into direct contact with cells in other areas of the body, such as the mouth and throat. These toxins also have the opportunity to circulate through the entire body, potentially contributing to many other types of cancer. The following cancers have all been linked to tobacco use:
With so many types of cancer caused by cigarette smoke, quitting smoking may be one of the most effective methods for lowering your risk of many cancers, and for lowering the chance of dying from cancer.
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"Researchers Pinpoint How Smoking Causes Cancer." (Science Daily, May 14, 2008) <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080513130635.htm>
Help with Smoking <http://www.helpwithsmoking.com/smoking-and-cancer.php>
National Cancer Institute <http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/cessation>
Balch, Phyllis A. "Prescription for Nutritional Healing." Fourth Edition (Penguin Books, 2006).
National Lung Cancer Partnership <http://www.nationallungcancerpartnership.org/index.cfm?page=lung_cancer_facts_US>
photo by Shannon Holman