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Nicotine Linked to Breast Cancer: More Bad News for Female Smokers

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smoker through a bus shelter

Image by Susan NYC via Flickr

It is well known that smoking cigarettes leads to an increase in lung cancer and oral cancers. Recent research has now shown that nicotine itself is linked specifically to breast cancer.

In a recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Dr. Yuan Soon Ho of Taipei Medical University exposed nicotine to normal human breast cells and also to diseased human breast cancer cells. Results of this study showed that normal healthy breast cells exposed to nicotine developed characteristics of diseased breast cancer cells. Breast cancer cells exposed to nicotine produce a receptor for nicotine on the cell surface. In this study the breast cells produced alpha 9 subunit (a9-nAChr) of the nicotine acetylcholine receptor. The more advanced the breast cancer, the greater the number of these nicotine receptors. This means that the nicotine binding receptor has a direct impact on on the development and growth of breast cancer cells. More bad news for smokers.

Women who smoke and use hormone replacement therapy containing estrogen and progestins have double the risk of developing breast cancer compared to nonsmoking women on hormone replacement therapy.

In addition to nicotine, cigarettes contain many other cancer-causing chemicals such as cadmium, arsenic, tars and carbon monoxide. Even exposure to second hand smoke can lead to the appearance of nicotine in the breast milk of nursing mothers. Any source of nicotine, including the many nicotine patches and gum used to stop smoking can stimulate breast cancer cells through this newly discovered nicotine-breast cancer connection.

Furthermore, the heat of the smoke burns the tiny hair like cilia which sweep particles and debris from your airways and throat. Once these cilia are destroyed the capacity to remove inhaled particles from the lungs and throat and nasal passages is also destroyed.

Increased risks for women smokers include:

  • Increased risk of breast cancer, lung cancer, oral cancers and cervical and vulvar cancers
  • Increased risk of blood clots, stroke and heart attack (This risk is dramatically increased if women smokers are also using birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy containing estrogen and progestins)
  • Increased risk of bone loss, osteoporosis and fractures of the hip and spine
  • Increased rates of infertility
  • Abnormal menstruation
  • Early onset of menopause
  • Increased risks in pregnancy and for the newborn: pre-term delivery, low birth weight, premature rupture of membranes(premature onset of labor), placenta previa, miscarriage and infant death.
  • Newborns of mothers who smoke must go through nicotine withdrawal in the first weeks of life.
  • Increased risk of respiratory diseases including asthma and emphysema destroying the capacity to breathe normally.
  • Increased risk of high blood pressure

Among the many methods available, I use acupuncture, and find it a particularly effective method to stop smoking. Acupuncture has an impact on the physiologic addiction to nicotine. Typically three to six treatments are given over 14 days. Within 10 days the physical cravings decrease. Additionally, the psychological and behavioral issues associated with smoking must be addressed in order to successfully become a nonsmoker for life.

Smoking is the most PREVENTABLE cause of death in the U.S. Over 140,000 women die each year due to smoking related deaths. Women smokers not only put themselves at increased risk but also impact the health of their children, families and coworkers by exposing them to the dangers of second hand smoke.

Given the new evidence linking nicotine directly to breast cancer, now is the time to plan to quit smoking for life.

For more resources on alternative cancer care and cancer prevention click on this link.

Journal Reference:
Chia-Hwa Lee, Ching-Shui Huang, Ching-Shyang Chen, Shih-Hsin Tu, Ying-Jan Wang, Yu-Jia Chang, Ka-Wai Tam, Po-Li Wei, Tzu-Chun Cheng, Jan-Show Chu, Li-Ching Chen, Chih-Hsiung Wu, and Yuan-Soon Ho. Overexpression and Activation of the α9-Nicotinic Receptor During Tumorigenesis in Human Breast Epithelial Cells. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 2010; DOI: 10.1093/jnci/djq300

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