Why does smoking and drinking cause cancer? It might seem like common knowledge that smoking and drinking lead to cancer, however the mechanisms behind these activities are not so clear to the majority of people.


Smoking And Cancer

No matter how you smoke it, tobacco is dangerous and affects the entire body. Cigarettes contain over 600 ingredients. When they burn, they generate more than 7,000 chemicals. Many of those chemicals are poisonous and at least 69 of them can cause cancer. Smoking accounts for nearly a fifth of all cancer cases and more than 25% of U.K cancer deaths.

A study entitled "The global burden of cancer: priorities for prevention" illustrates that smoking is responsible for 80% of cancers in men and 50% of cancers in women globally. Of all cancers, lung cancer has the lowest survival rate.

Types Of Cancer Linked with Smoking

  • Mouth, throat, larynx, and oesophagus
  • Lung
  • Liver
  • Pancreas
  • Stomach
  • Kidney
  • Bowel
  • Ovaries (less common)
  • Bladder
  • Cervical (less common)
  • Leukaemia

The Effects Of Cigarette Smoke

The chemicals in cigarette smoke enters the blood stream and affects the whole body.

Lung cancer is by far the most common cancer caused by smoking. Smoking accounts for 80% of lung cancer cases. Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in the UK.

Filters and low-tar cigarettes make little difference, lung cancer risk is not lower compared to smokers of normal cigarettes. This maybe because smokers tend to smoke more of these cigarettes to satisfy their craving.

The more cigarettes you smoke, the higher the risk of cancer. Cutting down the number of cigarettes you smoke a day is a good first step.

Drinking and smoking together raises the risk of these cancers far more than the effects of either drinking or smoking alone.

How Does Smoking Cause Cancer?

Smoking causes cancer by damaging DNA including key genes that protect against cancer.

This is bad news but it’s made worse by other chemicals in cigarettes. These chemicals make poisons that stick strongly to DNA, increasing the chances of serious damage. Other chemicals interfere with pathways for repairing damaged DNA. This makes it more likely that damaged cells will eventually turn cancerous.

Smokers are also less able to handle toxic chemicals than those with healthy lungs and blood because the chemicals in cigarette smoke make immune systems less effective.

There are major cancer risks posed by excessive drinking too as it puts people at a much higher risk of the disease as smoking, obesity, physical inactivity or UV radiation.

Types Of Cancer Linked To Alcohol Use

  • Mouth, throat, larynx, and oesophagus
  • Liver
  • Colon and Rectum (Bowel)
  • Breast

How Does Drinking Cause Cancer?

Alcohol and its byproducts can act as an irritant, damaging organs such as liver, mouth, throat, larynx, and oesophagus. Cells are damaged and try to repair themselves, which can lead to DNA changes in the cells that cause cancer.

Drinking And Smoking

Drinking and smoking together raises the risk of these cancers far more than the effects of either drinking or smoking alone. This is because alcohol can act as a solvent, helping the harmful chemicals in tobacco to get inside the cells that line the digestive tract. Alcohol may also slow down these cells’ ability to repair damage to their DNA caused by chemicals in tobacco.

Smoking causes a multitude of health concerns harming nearly every organ of the body. This is why it’s better to give up smoking sooner rather than later.

While there are no safe alcohol limits, the more you drink, the greater the risk of cancer. However, you can enjoy a healthy lifestyle if alcohol is enjoyed responsibly and in moderation.

Cutting down on both drinking and smoking will not only be a health benefit. You will end up with more money in the bank and will wake up feeling physically and mentally strong every single morning

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It’s good to know.

Written by Hannah Kingston | Approved by Medical Director Dominic Rowley