Many smokers want to know exactly how much higher their risk of dying from various forms of cancer is compared to non-smokers. Unfortunately the answer is a lot higher, more than 10 times higher for cancers such as lung, larynx, and mouth cancers.
Interestingly some forms of cancer that one wouldn’t normally associate with smoking such as pancreatic cancer, cervical cancer, and acute myeloid leukemia are also more likely in smokers.
The largest study of the impact of smoking on the probability of developing cancer is the Cancer Prevention Study 2, which was funded by the American Cancer society. The study involved over 1.2 million people so provides quite accurate data on the precise risks of cancer from smoking.
The American Cancer society calculated the following relative risks of some common forms of cancer for current smokers vs never smokers. They are listed below for men and women respectively and represent how many times more likely a smoker is to develop a form of cancer at a given age than a non-smoker.
Lung cancer: 23.3 (men) & 12.7 (women)
Cancers of larynx: 14.6 & 13
Cancers of mouth, lip & pharynx: 10.9 & 5.1
Esophageal cancer: 6.6 & 7.8
Pancreatic cancers: 2.3 for both men & women
Stomach cancers: 2.0 & 1.4
Cervical cancer: 1.6 (women)
Bladder cancer: 3.2 & 2.2
Kidney & other urinary cancers: 2.7 & 1.3
Acute myeloid leukemia: 1.9 & 1.1
Of these, lung cancer is by far the most common cancer and it also carries the highest relative risk for men and second highest for women. It is thought the average smoker has about a 1 in 6 chance (16%) of developing lung cancer in their lifetime while a heavy smoker, defined as smoking more than 20 cigarettes per day, has more than a 25% chance. The average non-smoker on the other hand has less than a 1% chance of developing lung cancer in their lifetime.
It is also interesting to view the percentage of cancer deaths for each cancer type that are attributable to smoking.
Cancer of the Larynx: 78%
Cancer of the Esophagus: 74%
Cancers of the Mouth, lip & pharynx: 61%
Cancer of the Pancreas: 22%
Acute Myeloid Leukemia: 17%
Smoking is also responsible for an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as coronary and ischemic heart disease, strokes, and aneurysms because it causes hypertension (chronic high blood pressure) and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Smoking also increases the risk of developing, and subsequently dying from other lung diseases such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
The good news is that after quitting smoking, much of the damage caused by smoking is reversible. The risks of developing smoking related cancers falls to the same or similar levels as non-smokers after about 15 to 20 years.
After 20 years without smoking, an ex-smokers risk of developing lung cancer is just 1.5 times higher than someone who has never smoked and is around 10 times lower than it would be had they smoked for those 20 years.
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