Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Each year, about 443,000 Americans die from smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke. Still, almost 50 million Americans choose to smoke cigarettes. Even brief exposure to smoke can be dangerous. One cigarette contains over 600 ingredients, 4,000 chemicals and 50 cancer-causing agents and many poisonous toxins.
Dangers of Smoking
Cigarettes don’t just put you at higher risk for lung cancer. Smoking makes you more susceptible to heart disease, stroke, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, narrowing of the arteries, peripheral vascular disease, abdominal aneurysm and at least 17 types of cancer. When you choose to smoke, you are also increasing your risk for osteoporosis, infertility, pre-term delivery, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome.
Cellular Damage and Free Radicals
The birth and death of body cells occurs continuously. It is a normal, healthy process which allows the body to repair and replace cells. This is how cuts heal and how we recover from illness. The carcinogens in cigarette smoke damage the cells in the body and, over time, the body cannot repair the damage. As cellular damage increases and the body’s ability to repair the cells decrease, the risk for cancer goes up.
“Free radicals” is a term for damaged cells that can cause problems in the body. They are “free” because they are missing a critical molecule. They will seek to pair with another molecule, but may injure the cell’s DNA in the process. This can start a long chain of mutations. Mutated cells can grow and reproduce rapidly, and this is how disease begins.
External toxins like cigarette smoke are “free radical generators.” Cigarette smoke can overwhelm the body’s natural free-radical defense. Over time, the body cannot sustain the attack of free radicals and diseases like heart disease and cancer can develop.
How Smoking is Directly Linked to Colon Cancer
When you smoke, you are increasing your risk for colon cancer. Inhaling chemicals and toxins into your body invites free radicals to damage DNA and mutate healthy cells. Free radicals can cause the development of precancerous polyps in the large intestine, which can become cancerous and eventually cause colon cancer. Smoking can also cause more aggressive polyps known as flat adenomas, and these can be present in both light and heavy smokers.
Not only do smokers have a higher risk of developing colon cancer, they have an increased risk of dying from the disease. According to a study, people who have smoked are 23 percent more likely to die or have their cancer return within three years than nonsmokers who had colon surgery. Also, people who smoked at the time of colon cancer diagnosis are 47 percent more likely to have a recurrence of colon cancer or to die from the disease.
Family history has a significant influence on whether you are at higher risk for colon cancer. However, there is enough evidence to support that smoking puts you at equal risk for developing colon cancer as having a first-degree relative with colon cancer. Why would you allow a habit like smoking to increase your risk?
Smoking and Early Screening
Currently, the American Cancer Society recommends screening at the age of 40 for all individuals with a first-degree relative with colon cancer. However, they do not recommend earlier screenings for smokers. Someday, smoking may be seen as a risk factor that requires early screening, but you should talk to your doctor about early screening if you smoke.
Make a Plan to Quit Smoking
If you currently smoke or recently quit smoking, there is good news. Quitting smoking will help decrease your risk for developing colon cancer. There is a lag time before the risk though. Just as it takes a period of time for disease to set in, it takes equally long for the body to return to average risk. What is strongly linked with colon cancer is smoking in your teens and 20s because there is a 30-year lag period between the onset of smoking and the development of cancer.
If you are a smoker, get help quitting smoking. The American Cancer Society has effective programs to help you quit smoking and take a step toward a cancer-free life. Every body system will improve when you make this important choice. For helpful resources on how to quit smoking, visit the American Cancer Society’s website.