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How Smoking Can Lead To Cancer Development

Smoking remains one of the biggest causes of preventable deaths globally. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking accounts for 1 in about five deaths in the United States every year.

As of 2019, 14% of the adult population in the country are smokers.

The American Lung Association states that there are more than 600 ingredients present in a cigarette. Each cigarette releases about 7000 chemicals when it is burnt. Out of these, close to 70 chemicals are proven carcinogens (cancer-causing substances). Some of them are:

When a person inhales cigarette smoke, these carcinogens and other chemicals reach the lungs and are distributed throughout the body. 

Once these carcinogenic chemicals enter the body, they are detoxified by the cytochrome P450 group of enzymes (CYPs). 

These CYP enzymes convert these carcinogens into a more active intermediary form called DNA adducts. DNA adducts are parts of the DNA that attach themself to these cancer-causing chemicals. 

The intermediaries lead to DNA damage and abnormal cell multiplication and have to be quickly detoxified by other enzymatic processes. Unfortunately, in some people, the number of cancerous intermediaries builds up at a faster rate than they are eliminated. This leads to cancer. 

There are other carcinogens in cigarette smoke that directly form DNA adducts without the help of the CYP enzymes. These lead to direct DNA damage and cell abnormalities, and resultant cancer. 

Smoking - A Risk Factor for Breast Cancer

While smoking is a risk factor for all types of cancer, it is significantly associated with breast cancer in women. 

In the United States, 1 in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Smoking increases this risk drastically. 

A study published in the BioMed Central Ltd forum analyzed the risk of breast cancer in women who smoked.

102,927 women were chosen and monitored for 7.7 years. In the end, 1815 women developed invasive breast cancer. The study found that smokers had a 14% higher risk of developing breast cancer than non-smokers. 

Learn More: How Genes Influence Your Risk for Nicotine Dependence?

This study also mentions that women who start smoking before 17 had a significantly higher risk (24%) for breast cancer. 

Another study analyzed the risk of breast cancer in 111,140 active smokers and 36,017 passive smokers (people who don’t smoke themselves but are exposed to other people’s cigarette smoke).

According to the study, some factors that increase the risk of breast cancer are:

Does Secondhand Smoke Increase Breast Cancer Risk?

Secondhand smoke is also called passive smoking and is smoke that a person inhales unintentionally. For example, people can inhale tobacco smoke by just being around others who smoke. According to the California Air Resources Board, secondhand smoke is a proven carcinogen. 

The smoke that is released from the burning ends of cigarettes is called sidestream smoke. Sidestream smoke is unfiltered and hence contains more harmful substances than the smoke that a smoker breathes out. 

A 2013 study analyzed the risk of breast cancer in 322,988 active, passive, and non-smokers. 

Compared to non-smoking women, those exposed to passive smoke at home or work had a higher risk of developing breast cancer. 

How Does Genetics Influence Smoking And Breast Cancer Risk?

The GSTM1 Gene

The GSTM1 gene (glutathione S-transferase mu 1 gene) helps produce the glutathione S-transferase enzyme that belongs to the Mu class. The Mu class of enzymes helps in eliminating carcinogens and other environmental toxins from the body.

rs366631 is a single nucleotide polymorphism or SNP in the GSTM1 gene. 

People with the GSTM1 null genotype have a higher risk of developing breast cancer when exposed to cigarette smoke. 

Null genotype is the non-functional variant of the gene that results in total loss of function of the gene. 

Here, the TT genotype is the null genotype.

The risk of breast cancer was also more severe in postmenopausal smokers with the GSTM1 null genotype. 

TTIncreased risk of breast cancer upon smoking
CTNormal risk of breast cancer upon smoking
CCNormal risk of breast cancer upon smoking

The SLC4A7 Gene

The SLC4A7 gene (Solute Carrier Family 4 Member 7 gene) helps produce a protein that transports sodium and bicarbonate ions. It also plays a role in the metabolism of different acids, ions, and amine compounds.

rs4973768  is an SNP in the SLC4A7 gene. A meta-analysis has reported an increased risk for breast cancer upon smoking in T allele carriers

TTIncreased risk of breast cancer upon smoking
CTIncreased risk of breast cancer upon smoking
CCNormal risk of breast cancer upon smoking

Reducing Smoking to Lower Breast Cancer Risk

Get Help To Quit Smoking

There are so many government and private bodies that help people with tobacco addiction. You can get help from some of these rehab centers to stop or limit smoking. It takes time and effort to curb the craving. Here are some pointers that can help you with this.

Avoid Smoking Triggers

For people who have been smoking for years together, some places, smells, habits, or environments can create an urge to smoke. Understand these triggers and stay away from them. Practice the below activities to make quitting smoking easier.

Stay Away From Secondhand Smoking

Secondhand smoking ends up harmful to non-smokers. Here are ways you can limit/eliminate secondhand smoke exposure.

Get Genetic Testing Done

Genetic testing helps identify genetic factors that could increase your breast cancer risk. If you do have a high genetic risk, regular screening may help. 



  1. Smoking is one of the major causes of preventable deaths globally. Smoking leads to a variety of health problems, including cancers.
  2. The chemicals in cigarette smoke can alter DNA and encourage the formation of DNA adducts. This leads to abnormal cell division and growth, causing cancer.
  3. Women who start smoking at a younger age, have increased lifetime exposure to smoking, or smoke excessively before the first pregnancy are more likely to develop breast cancer. 
  4. Secondhand smoking or passive smoking also increases a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. 
  5. Changes in the GSTM1 and SLC4A7 genes can both increase a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer due to smoking.
  6. Getting help to quit smoking, staying away from triggers, and protecting oneself from secondhand smoke can all bring down the effect of smoking on breast cancer.
  7. Opting for genetic testing will tell if a woman is at a higher risk of developing breast cancer because of smoking. If so, taking help to limit/quit smoking and getting screened for cancer regularly help.


I am your heart. I work really hard to keep you alive. Every minute I pump out 5 litres of oxygen rich blood to every cell in your body so you can think, move, speak, work and live. In return all I ask is that you keep me healthy. Not many people around the world do that. In fact approximately 17.3 million people die every year because heart disease. By 2020, it will be the leading cause of death around the world.

So let’s have a conversation. Heart to heart. Here are 7 natural ways you can prevent a heart attack.


1. Eat Healthy

Look towards healthy foods that help lower cholesterol. Eat vegetables and fish that have lots of good fats. Don’t eat as much red meat, choose lean meats instead. Eat a serving of nuts (walnuts, almonds etc.) every day. Drink less of carbonated beverages and drink natural fruit juices without added sugar. Get 4-5 servings of fresh vegetables. Feeling like having a snack? Skip the chips and salty foods and munch on some fresh carrots instead. Search and build your own book of healthy recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Trust me, your heart will thank you for it.

2. Exercise

With more of us having less active jobs than ever before, a lack of exercise is a big risk factor for heart disease. On the bright side, it also means that exercising regularly in addition to eating healthy is one of the fastest ways to reduce your risk! Research shows that getting just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times a week can significantly reduce the risk of a heart attack. Can’t spare 30 minutes at a stretch? Sneak in three 10 minute sessions of brisk walking or exercise whenever you get a break.

3. Get adequate rest

We’re living in a 24X7 world. The computers and mobile devices that allow us to connect to the internet and each other whenever we want have also taken away proper sleep habits. We sacrifice sleep for work and for leisure without realizing the effect that it has on our body. Scientific studies have shown that people who get less than 6 hours of sleep a night have a higher chance of getting high blood pressure and high cholesterol both of which contribute to heart disease. So put down that phone, turn off the TV and get some sleep.

4. Quit smoking

Smoking can double the risk of you having a heart attack. Smoking damages the blood vessels and increases the risk of them being blocked leading to higher chances of a heart attack. Women who take birth control pills and smoke are particularly at a higher risk to develop heart disease. Even smoking for a brief period of time damages the heart. Nicotine in cigarettes or chewing tobacco reduces the oxygen supply to the heart and increases blood pressure. So if you smoke, make a healthy start and quit today.

5. Drink alcohol in strict moderation

If you drink alcohol, be sure to strictly control how much you drink. Drinking alcohol excessively has been shown to increase the risk for hypertension, obesity and heart disease. Alcohol intake above moderate levels also increases cholesterol levels leading to formation of plaques and blood vessel blockage.

6. Practice Yoga and Meditation

Among other benefits, yoga and meditation have been shown to significantly reduce stress and have positive effects on mind and body. Yoga comprises of physical exercises as well as training to control the breath. In combination with meditation, yoga can improves many physiological functions and be extremely effective as a preventive mechanism for heart attacks.

7. Know your numbers and your risk factors

Lastly, always be aware of your health status. According to Barry A Franklin PhD Director of Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation at William Beaumont Hospital in Michigan USA and an American Heart Association Volunteer “Regular cardiovascular screening is important because it helps you detect risk factors in their earliest stages”. See your physician regularly and get your cholesterol and triglyceride levels checked. Your genes can play a role in whether you are more likely to get heart disease. Know your family history and whether that puts you at an increased risk. In addition, an advanced program like Xcode’s Lifelong Wellness can analyze your genes for health risks and metabolic traits and give you a personalized nutrition and fitness plan that will put you on the on the path to a healthier lifestyle.



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