Smoking And Other Forms Of Cancer

Many people automatically think of lung cancer when they think of the health risks associated with smoking, but the reality is that smoking can also increase the risk of several other forms of cancer. Smoking is linked to more than a quarter of all cancer deaths in the UK; it has been identified as a risk factor for:

  • bladder cancer
  • oesophageal cancer
  • oral cancer
  • bowel cancer
  • pancreatic cancer
  • cervical cancer
  • kidney cancer
  • stomach cancer
  • liver cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • leukaemia
  • breast cancer

Smoking increases the risk of cancer because it damaged the DNA; chemicals such as benzene and benzo (a) pyrene have been proven to affect DNA negatively and other chemicals, including chromium, also inhibit the body’s ability to repair DNA damage, further complicating the problem. Once the DNA is damaged, there is a higher risk of the cells becoming cancerous. As smoke can travel around the body via the bloodstream, it is able to affect almost every organ and this is why it is such a common risk factor for cancer.

Different forms of cancer affect the body in different ways; it can take several years for the DNA damage to become apparent and in some cases, symptoms develop very gradually over a protracted period of time; in other cases, cancer advances rapidly and it can be very aggressive. Often, early diagnosis is extremely important, but in cases of very aggressive cancer, even diagnosing cancer at an early stage will not improve survival chances significantly. 

The symptoms of cancer vary according to the part of the body affected and the type of cancer; however, some common shared symptoms may include:

  • night sweats
  • unexplained weight loss
  • abnormal lumps or swelling
  • abnormal bleeding (this may include vomiting or coughing up blood or bleeding between periods in women)
  • blood in the urine or faeces
  • persistent cough or sore throat
  • breathlessness
  • bloating
  • changes in bowel habits

Often, these symptoms turn out to be completely harmless, but with cancer, it is always best to be safe and get checked out; in the unlikely event of you having cancer, early diagnosis could make all the difference. If you are in doubt, arrange to see your GP; they will probably ask you some questions about your symptoms and your general health and then carry out a physical examination; if they suspect that there is a risk of cancer, they will refer you for further tests. 

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