When people think about the link between smoking and cancer, the first cancer to come to mind is often lung cancer, but it turns out that research also shows links between smoking and breast cancer.
Women who smoke are more likely to get breast cancer and more likely to have worse outcomes. Research also shows a possible link between breast cancer and heavy exposure to secondhand smoke.
The age at which women begin smoking also appears to affect breast cancer risk later in life. A 2013 study found that women who began smoking before their menstrual periods began had a 61 percent higher risk of invasive breast cancer than women who had never smoked, and a 16 percent higher risk than women who began smoking at least 11 years before having a child, but after their periods began.
The risk is 21 percent higher for all women who begin smoking before having their first child. The likely reason for this is that breast tissue is more susceptible to harm from tobacco before the tissue is fully developed, which doesn’t occur until childbirth. Additional research shows that postmenopausal women who smoke and premenopausal women who are exposed to secondhand smoke also have a higher risk.
In addition, a 2015 Japanese study shows that premenopausal women who have smoked for more than 20 years are more likely to have breast cancer at an earlier age and more than 3 1/2 times more likely to die from breast cancer than women who never smoked. Women who had smoked for less than 20 years only had a slightly elevated risk level.
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Breast cancer risk also increases as a result of a relatively common mutation to the NAT2 gene. Women who have a slow-acting variant of this gene have an increased risk of breast cancer if they are long-term smokers. As many as 50 percent of white women and 40 percent of African-American women have a slow-acting NAT2 gene.
This research adds to the body of literature exposing the dangers of cigarette smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke. It also gives hope that quitting smoking can be a useful tool in the fight against breast cancer.
Smoking is not a healthy habit. Try to make steps towards quitting or cutting down your use of tobacco today.