Women who smoke increase their risk of developing certain cancers of the blood, immune system, and bone marrow new research shows today (Friday).
The study showed that the risks of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and some bone marrow cancers were doubled in women who smoked about 20 cigarettes a day. The risks of other types of blood cancer were also increased among smokers, but to a lesser extent.
The large study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, looked at 1.3 million middle-aged women from the Million Women study, funded by Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council.*
Over a 10 year period 9000 women in the study developed leukaemia, a cancer of the immune system or of the bone marrow. Over the 10 years, six in every 1000 women who never smoked developed one of these cancers, whereas the number was almost eight in every 1000 for smokers.
The results add to existing evidence on the impact smoking has on Hodgkin lymphoma, and sheds new light on the link with other types of lymphoma, leukaemia and cancers of the bone marrow.
Professor Valerie Beral, one of the study authors and director of the Cancer Research UK Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University, said: “These results highlight yet again how important smoking is as a cause of cancer.
“Smoking raises the risk of many types of cancer, not just lung cancer, and also the risk of heart attack and stroke, which many people may not be aware of.”
A recent survey by Cancer Research UK of the UK public showed there is a shocking level of ignorance about smoking and cancer. While most people know that smoking causes cancers of the lung, mouth and throat, few are aware that tobacco is also linked to cancers of the liver, pancreas, bowel, kidney, cervix, and bladder.
This new research shows the significant impact smoking can have on blood cancers as well.
Sara Hiom, director of information at Cancer Research UK, said: “Smoking is by far the most important preventable risk factor for cancer in the UK – it’s responsible for nearly a fifth of all new cancer cases and causes more than a quarter of all deaths from cancer in the UK.**
“It’s never too late to stop smoking; you will reduce your risk of developing lung cancer and other serious diseases. Your GP or local pharmacy can advise you where to find your local NHS support services.”
Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, said: “This is yet another stark reminder of the dangers of smoking. There are only two options to eliminate the illnesses caused by smoking – and they are to help smokers quit and to stop young people from starting to smoke in the first place.
“Reducing the appeal of cigarettes is essential to prevent young people from starting to smoke and so plain packaging of tobacco is the vital next step we need to make. Replacing the slickly designed, brightly coloured cigarette packaging with packs of standard size, shape and colour will give millions of children one less reason to start smoking.
“With the consultation on the future of tobacco packaging closing today, we urge the government to respond as quickly as possible to stop another generation from becoming addicted to a product that will kill half of all long term smokers.”
For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.
Kroll ME et al., Alcohol drinking, tobacco smoking and subtypes of haematological malignancy in the UK Million Women Study, British Journal of Cancer, (2012). DOI:10.1038/bjc.2012.333
*The Million Women Study is funded by Cancer Research UK and the Medical Research Council. It is the biggest study ever undertaken to look at women and cancer risk. It looks at women aged 50-64 who were invited for screening by the NHS breast screening programme in England and Scotland between 1996 and 2001. Women completed a study questionnaire about their height, weight, reproductive histories, socioeconomic and lifestyle factors.
**Around 60,000 cases of cancer in the UK in 2010 were caused by smoking. (D. M. Parkin, The fraction of cancer attributable to lifestyle and environmental factors in the UK in 2010, British Journal of Cancer Supplement, (2011).)
Smoking causes more than a quarter (28 per cent) of all deaths from cancer in the UK – around 43,000 deaths in 2009 – and has killed an estimated 6.5 million people in the UK over the last 50 years.
Under the proposals for plain packaging – which the UK government is consulting on – current packaging would be replaced with packs of standard size, shape and colouring, all designed to make cigarettes less appealing to children and give health warnings more impact.
Around half of all long-term smokers will die from cancer or other smoking-related illnesses. And a quarter of smokers die in middle age – between 35 and 69.
Around 20 per cent of the UK population smoke. Eight out of ten smokers start smoking by the time they turn 19 and around 157,000 11-15 year olds started smoking in the UK in 2010.