Smoking and breast cancer: link, effects and more


Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer and one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Smoking is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in some people.

The exact cause of breast cancer is unknown, but certain risk factors increase the likelihood that a person will develop breast cancer.

A person cannot change some breast cancers risk factors like genetics or age, but they can change others, like smoking.

Keep reading to learn more about the link between exposure to cigarette smoke and breast cancer, how smoking affects breast cancer treatment, and more.

According to World Health Organization (WHO)Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer and the leading cause of cancer death in women around the world.

Smoking can increase cancer risk because certain chemicals in tobacco products can cause uncontrolled cell growth in a person’s body. Although smoking is not considered to be a direct cause of breast cancer, smoking is linked to a higher risk in some people.

A 2017 study found that smoking was associated with a modest but significantly increased risk of breast cancer in some women, including:

  • women who started smoking in their teens or 17 years old
  • women who started smoking before or around their first period
  • women who started smoking 1 to 4 years after their first period
  • women with a family history of breast cancer who have smoked at any time in their life
  • women of childbearing age who are BRCA2 mutation carriers
  • women who have smoked for at least 10 years
  • women who have quit smoking for less than 20 years
  • women who smoked more than 5 years before their first full term pregnancy
  • women who smoked more than five cigarettes per day

According to American Cancer Society According to the 2021 estimates for breast cancer in women in the United States, there will be 281,550 new cases diagnosed with 43,600 deaths from the disease.

The WHO states that in 2020 there were 2.3 million women diagnosed with breast cancer with 685,000 deaths from the disease worldwide.

In 2019, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published that approximately 1 in 5 American adults (50.6 million) currently use a tobacco product.

WHO states that more than 80% of the world’s 1.3 billion tobacco users live in low- and middle-income countries.

Additional statistics from a 2017 study published in Breast cancer research understand:

  • Women who smoked at some point in their life were 14% more likely to develop breast cancer than those who had never smoked.
  • Women who started smoking before the age of 17 had a 24% increased risk, while those who started smoking between the ages of 17 and 19 had a 15% increased rate of breast cancer.
  • Smoking for more than 10 years increased the risk of developing breast cancer by 21%, while those who smoked for more than 30 years have a slightly higher risk (22%).
  • Among women who quit smoking, there was still a 28% increase in the risk of developing breast cancer for those who had quit for less than 10 years.
  • For women with a family history of breast cancer, their risk of breast cancer was highest if they started smoking before the age of 20 (56%).

By a 2017 study, smoking is associated with the breast cancer subtype Luminaire A. Luminal A cancers tend to grow slowly and have a good outlook.

Treatments for breast cancer include:

Smoking can increase the complications of breast cancer treatment.

According to a 2020 review, smoking during radiation therapy can cause complications, including:

  • poorer response to treatment
  • lower 2-year survival rates
  • cancer recurrence
  • a possible increase in cardiovascular events such as heart attack, stroke, or congestive heart failure

The study mentions that people who smoke are still at higher risk of major complications, such as difficulty healing after surgery and after breast reconstruction, even if they have not received radiation therapy.

Nicotine is the addictive ingredient in tobacco products. It does not cause cancer on its own. However, a Study 2021 suggests that nicotine may promote the spread of breast cancer to a person’s lungs.

Since cannabis smoke contains ingredients similar to tobacco, smoking cannabis can be a risk factor for developing lung cancer.

However, a Meta-analysis 2019 found no link between cannabis use and the development of breast cancer.

The review authors note that due to the lack of evidence linking cannabis smoking to other cancers, larger-scale studies are needed.

Secondhand smoke, also known as second-hand smoke, is the combination of the smoke from the hot end of a cigarette and the smoke that people breathe out.

According to CDC, second-hand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. Hundreds of these chemicals are toxic and about 70 can cause cancer.

According to a 2018 study, passive smoking increases the risk of lung and breast cancer in women.

A 2015 case-control study in China also suggests a strong positive association with passive smoking and an increased risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

Doctors have long suspected a link between smoking and breast cancer risk, but advocacy group says breast, research results are mixed. More research is needed to understand the potential link between secondhand smoke and breast cancer risk.

Smoking is harmful and there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco. Quitting smoking reduces the risk of developing many smoking-related diseases, such as breast cancer.

Most people quit smoking using a combination of medication and behavioral changes.

Here are some tips for quitting smoking:

  • Discuss smoking cessation medications with a doctor.
  • Set a date to quit smoking.
  • Start an exercise or walking program.
  • Try acupuncture.
  • Practice mindfulness meditation.
  • Avoid smoking triggers.
  • Try an app to quit smoking.
  • Find a friend who also wants to quit smoking.
  • Use a telephone stop line such as 800-QUIT-NOW (800-448-7848).
  • Contact smoking cessation assistance programs, such as those offered by the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association.

Find more tips for quitting smoking here.

Research shows that smoking is associated with increased risk breast cancer in some women, especially women who started smoking as a teenager, smoked at least two packs a day or smoked before their first full term pregnancy.

Smoking is a major health problem and one of the few modifiable risk factors for the development of breast cancer.

People who do not smoke should avoid starting. For people who smoke, there are many programs available to help quit smoking.

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