Tobacco: Smoking and Breast Cancer
No one would argue with the fact that smoking is not good for your health. It’s an extremely dangerous and costly habit. According to statistics released in 2004 by the American Heart Association, smoking related illnesses kill an average of 442,398 Americans and cost the nation $157 billion each year.
For years we have known that smoking is linked to cancers of the bladder, esophagus, larynx, lung, mouth, and throat; to chronic lung disease, such as bronchitis and emphysema; and to chronic heart disease and cardiovascular diseases, including strokes, high blood pressure, and poor circulation. A new report released by the Surgeon General in May 2004 reveals that smoking also causes a rash of other diseases: acute myeloid leukemia, abdominal aortic aneurysms, cataracts, periodontitis, pneumonia, and cancers of the cervix, kidney, pancreas, and stomach.
There’s also evidence that smoking may cause colorectal cancers, liver cancer, prostate cancer, and erectile dysfunction. This report said that smokers die an average of thirteen to fourteen years earlier than nonsmokers. It states that smoking-related diseases have killed 12 million Americans in the last forty years, continue to kill about 440,000 each year, and cost the nation $75 billion annually to treat these diseases.
For years, it was unclear whether smoking increased the risk of breast cancer or not. Some studies found that it was difficult to separate the risk associated with cigarette smoking from the risk associated with alcohol consumption, because most smokers also drink alcohol, and alcohol is a significant risk factor for breast cancer. But now, researchers have concluded from several well-designed studies that there is a clear and significant association between cigarette smoking and breast cancer.
YOUNGER START—GREATER RISK
Smoking during the teenage years is particularly dangerous in terms of breast cancer risk. A study from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) found that women who smoked cigarettes during their adolescence had a 50 percent increased risk of breast cancer. This may be because female breast cells generally don’t mature until the first pregnancy (immature breast cells are more susceptible to damage from toxins).
But smoking can be dangerous at any age. A German study published in 2002 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found that women who smoked had a 50 percent increased risk of breast cancer. The risk for ex-smokers kept going down the longer that they abstained from smoking. But no matter how long it had been since they smoked, their risk was still 20 percent higher than nonsmokers.
These researchers also found that secondhand smoke increased the risk of breast cancer. They documented that women who inhaled passive smoke were 60 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than those who weren’t exposed to it. The highest risk was in smokers who also inhaled passive smoke.
Another study published in The Lancet in 2002 found that very specific categories of smokers have a particularly high risk. For instance, an unusually high risk of breast cancer was found in women who had been pregnant and who had started smoking as teenagers within five years of starting their period. Women who had never had a baby and who smoked twenty cigarettes a day or more for more than twenty years also had a significantly increased risk.
One of the reasons smoking increases the risk of breast cancer is that cigarette smoke contains carcinogens. A study from Albert Einstein University published in 2002 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention identified the specific carcinogens in cigarette smoke: polycyclic hydrocarbons, aromatic amines, and N-nitrosamines.
This group of heterocyclic amines is similar to those found in grilled red meat. Certain carcinogens, including these, don’t become carcinogens until they are activated by enzymes—predominantly phase 1 liver enzymes—in your body. Breast tissue, like the liver, contains enzymes that can activate the carcinogens found in red meat and cigarette smoke.
All these carcinogens can induce mammary tumors, and they have all been found in the breast tissue and breast milk of women who smoke. Researchers have also found the changes in DNA and genetic mutations that are associated with an increased risk of breast cancer in the breast cells of women who smoke.
TO HELP YOU QUIT
If you smoke cigarettes and have tried to quit, you know how hard it can be to break this habit. Of all the addictions you can have, cigarette smoking is one of the hardest to give up. Research shows that the practice of Transcendental Meditation (TM) is extremely successful in breaking the addictive cycle and helping people to quit for good. In fact, of all the programs there are to help you stop smoking, the practice of TM is the most successful. People who practice this simple stress-reducing technique spontaneously quit smoking because they find their desire for cigarettes naturally decreases. Harvard-trained researchers David O’Connell, Ph.D., and Skip Alexander, Ph.D., wrote an excellent book, Self Recovery: Treating Addictions using Transcendental Meditation and Maharishi Ayurveda, that reports on all the research showing the impressive success that this mental technique has in overcoming addictions.
This information is used with permission by Christine Horner, MD www.drchristinehorner.com