In 2002, research showed that about 17% of deaths were due to smoking (20% in males and 12% in females)1. Every day, 100 Canadians will die of a smoking-related illness1. Besides cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses, smoking can cause certain types of cancer, including lung.
• Smoking is the single most preventable cause of cancer
• Smoking is responsible for about 30% of all cancer deaths
• Smoking is known to cause or increase one’s risk of developing the following cancers: Lung Cancer, Cancer of the Mouth, Throat (Pharynx), Voice Box (Larynx), and Esophagus, Leukemia, Bladder Cancer, Stomach Cancer, Kidney Cancer, Pancreatic Cancer, Cervical Cancer
The majority of lung cancer cases – about 85% - are directly related to smoking tobacco, particularly cigarettes. About 44% of Canadians (12.6 million) smoke or have quit smoking2. Tobacco smoke contains carcinogens, which are toxic, cancer-causing chemicals that promote cell damage over time. Inhaling smoke also destroys the defence system that keeps harmful substances of the lungs. This is why the risk of lung cancer increases with the number of years and the number of cigarettes a person has smoked. However, there is little known about how much, or for how long, one needs to smoke in order to increase one’s risk of lung cancer. The risk of dying from lung cancer is up to 25 times greater among smokers than people who never smoked, depending on how much they smoked1.
Smoking increases lung cancer risk by
• Causing genetic changes in the cells of the lungs
• Damaging the lungs’ normal cleaning process by which they get rid of foreign and harmful particles
Lodging cancer-causing particles in the mucus and developing into cancer tumours
Second Hand Smoke
Second hand smoke is exhaled into the air when somebody is smoking or when a cigarette, pipe or cigar is burning. It contains the same harmful chemicals that a smoker breaths in. Exposure to tobacco smoke from other people’s cigarettes, pipes, or cigars is a major cause of lung cancer in non smokers. According to the Canadian Cancer society, about 800 Canadian non-smokers die from second hand smoke every year3.
The risk among long-term ex-smokers (i.e. at least 20 years since quitting) is close to the risk of life-long non-smokers. Ten years after quitting smoking, the risk of developing lung cancer is 30-50% lower4.
Smoking cessation is a key element in helping reduce lung cancer mortality rates. Since the peak in the cancer mortality rate in Canada in 1988, it is estimated that over 31,000 lung cancer deaths have been avoided5. This is largely reflective of a reduction in smoking among Canadians.
(Estimates provided by the 2017 Canadian Cancer Statistics)
It is important that if you develop lung cancer, you stop smoking immediately. Smoking hurts your body’s ability to heal. Your risk of developing complications from your treatment, especially when it includes surgery, is much higher if you continue to smoke.
• Quitting smoking can improve responses to all forms of cancer therapy
• Quitting smoking after cancer therapy has been associated with a significantly decreased risk of another primary tumour in the lung
• Quitting smoking can help to improve breathing
Your healthcare team can put you in touch with many resources and support systems to help you stop smoking. It’s never too late to quit. Be sure to check out the resources below for additional support.
In addition, if you are a heavy smoker there are pilot screening programs that include a smoking cessation component that can help you quit and assess your current lung health.
If you are a current smoker with lung cancer and are preparing for surgery, please download this infosheet
Smoking Cessation Resources
Health Canada “Smoking and Mortality” Canada.ca, Government of Canada, 21 Sept. 2011, https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/health-concerns/tobacco/legislation/tobacco-product-labelling/smoking-mortality.html
Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care. “Recommendations on Screening for Lung Cancer.” CMAJ, CMAJ, 5 Apr. 2016, www.cmaj.ca/content/188/6/425.
“What Is Second-Hand Smoke - Canadian Cancer Society.” Www.cancer.ca, www.cancer.ca/en/prevention-and-screening/reduce-cancer-risk/make-healthy-choices/live-smoke-free/what-is-second-hand-smoke/?region=nl.
PDQ Screening and Prevention Editorial Board. “Cigarette Smoking: Health Risks and How to Quit (PDQ®).” PDQ Cancer Information Summaries [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 9 Apr. 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK66008/.
Canadian Cancer Society’s Advisory Committee on Cancer Statistics. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2017. Toronto, ON: Canadian Cancer Society; 2017. Available at: cancer.ca/Canadian-CancerStatistics-2017-EN.pdf