Fact: smoking can cause more than lung, head and neck cancers. The American Cancer Society researchers linked cigarette smoking and tobacco to more than 17 different types of cancer, colon cancer included. If you are of the 46.6 million Americans who smoke, consider quitting today to benefit your colon tomorrow.
But How Does It Reach My Colon?
The harmful effects of smoking are primarily seen in your lungs, mouth, throat and esophagus; however, the toxins are spread systemically. The carcinogens are disseminated throughout your body when you inhale smoke, swallow bits of tobacco, chemicals mix with your saliva or flow through your bloodstream (and end up in the colon).
The toxins you inhale while smoking may help mutate the cellular changes that lead to cancer, which can affect you later in life. If you quit now, you may still have an increased risk of developing colon cancer from smoking, but nowhere near as high as the people who continue to smoke. Tobacco use has also been proven to increase your incidence of colorectal polyps by two- to three-fold.
Colon Cancer from Smoking?
It’s a fact: the American Cancer Society reports that not only does your risk increase, but there is also a 30 percent to 40 percent increased chance that you may die from colon cancer if you smoke. Your risk of developing colon cancer increases proportionately with the number of years and amount of tobacco you use. As soon as you quit smoking, your personal risk of colon cancer starts to decrease.
It’s Not Just Cigarettes
If you use snuff (dip, smokeless tobacco, chew) your risk is just as increased as those who smoke cigarettes. When it comes to your colon, it’s not the actual cigarette that increases your risk; it’s the tobacco and nicotine that are the carcinogens increasing your colon cancer risk. Using any type of tobacco increases your risk of colon cancer. Common methods of tobacco delivery include:
- Dip (smokeless tobacco)
- Passive exposure
It’s Not Easy to Quit
If it were easy to quit using tobacco, there would not be such an abundance of tobacco cessation programs, over-the-counter drugs, support and even medications, such as Chantix (varenicline) or Zyban (buproprion), to help you quit. If you want to quit smoking:
- Ask your doctor for help.
- Ask loved ones for support.
- Substitute a healthy habit on your "smoke breaks," such as taking a walk.
- Get low-calorie finger foods, such as carrot sticks or hard candies.
- Check for local support groups.
- Stay away from old smoking grounds and buddies (just for the initial phase, while the desire to resume tobacco use is so fresh).
- Drive a new route to work or on errands if you used to smoke or use snuff in your car.
Your doctor may ask you questions about your smoking habit – don’t be embarrassed to answer honestly. He or she will use this information to help you quit. A one-a-day habit can insidiously evolve over the years to a two-pack-per day tobacco addiction. Consider:
- How often do you crave cigarettes?
- When did you start smoking?
- How many years have you smoked?
- How many cigarettes do you smoke per day?
- Do you use other forms of tobacco?
Smoking and Colon Cancer Treatments
If you have been diagnosed with colon cancer and are successfully treated, or if you are currently undergoing treatment, it is not too late to quit smoking now. Smoking may counteract your treatment efforts.
Chemotherapy and radiation are sometimes used to treat colon cancers. If you smoke while undergoing either form of treatment, there is a chance the treatment will not be as effective. Smoking can also magnify the severity of complications from treatment, such as dry mouth or sores, weight loss and fatigue.
Following surgery, a smoker may suffer more postoperative lung and wound complications. Smoking decreases your body's ability to heal wounds, which can lead to infections and increased hospitalization time. If you are scheduled to have surgery for colon cancer, such as a bowel resection, talk to your doctor about the benefits of quitting. Consider quitting at least six to eight weeks prior to surgery to obtain the most health benefits.
Smoking increases your life-long risk of colon cancer over non-smokers. Make sure to follow the recommendations for screening exams and follow up with your doctor. Depending on your age, general health and family medical history, your doctor may order screening exams to check your colon’s health. The object is to catch colon cancer before symptoms develop or to catch polyps when they are small and easily removed.
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH). (July 2009). Fact Sheet: Smoking and Surgery. Accessed January 17, 2012.
American Society of Clinical Oncology. (n.d.). Tobacco Use During Cancer Treatment. Accessed January 14, 2012 from Cancer.net.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Tobacco Use: Targeting the Nation’s Leading Killer at a Glance 2011. Accessed January 15, 2012.
National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Colorectal Cancer Screening. Accessed January 18, 2012.
Snowden, R.V. (December, 2009). Long-Term Smoking Increases Colorectal Cancer Risk, Study Shows. American Cancer Society. Accessed: January 14, 2012.