If you have breast cancer and smoke – beware. You may be at higher risk of dying of your cancer. According to new research presented at the Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research Conference, women with breast cancer who smoke have a greater risk of dying compared to women who don’t smoke. Even breast cancer survivors who smoked in the past have a higher overall death rate.
Smoking and Breast Cancer: Does It Increase Breast Cancer Progression?
Researchers compared the death rates of 2,265 women of differing ethnicities who had already been diagnosed with breast cancer. After following them for nine years, they found those women who had breast cancer and smoked, or who smoked in the past, had a 39% greater risk of dying of the disease relative to non-smokers. In addition, they had twice the risk of dying of non-breast cancer related causes. Even after researchers controlled for other factors that could affect breast cancer prognosis such as age, diet, menopausal status and lifestyle habits, it didn’t alter the results.
How Does Smoking Affect the Progression of Breast Cancer?
It’s not clear whether some component in cigarettes directly increases breast cancer progression, especially since these women had a greater risk of dying from non-breast cancer causes too. On the other hand, scientists at Taipei Medical University have identified receptors called nicotinic acetylcholine receptors on breast cancer cells that bind nicotine. When they looked more closely, they found breast cancer cells produce lots of these receptors, and when nicotine binds to them, it causes the cancerous cells to grow and divide faster. This suggests that nicotine directly stimulates breast cancer growth, although there are over 100 other chemicals in cigarettes that could also play a role in the progression of breast cancer.
Smoking and Breast Cancer: The Bottom Line?
If you have breast cancer, kick the smoking habit. Not only does it damage your heart and lungs, it may contribute to breast cancer progression. One word of caution. Talk to your doctor before using nicotine replacement therapy since the nicotine in these supplements may stimulate the growth of breast cancer cells. Explore other options such as hypnosis and acupuncture that don’t involve using nicotine – to be safe.
Eurekalert.org. “Smoking increased risk of death in women with breast cancer”
Eurek Alert. “Nicotine binding to receptor linked to breast cancer cell growth”