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Cancers Caused By Secondhand Smoke And Their Symptoms

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Secondhand smoke releases about 250 harmful chemicals out of which 50 are carcinogens. These impact different parts of the body differently depending on the intensity and frequency of exposure. Passive smoking causes lung cancer and increases the risk of breast, throat, rectum, bladder, stomach, and brain cancer. In children, it manifolds the risk of leukemia, lymphoma, and liver cancer.

Secondhand smoking is when you inhale the smoke produced by a smoker (mainstream smoke) or by the lighted end of a tobacco product like cigar, pipe, and hookah (sidestream smoke). Every year, secondhand smoking causes 34,000 deaths from heart disease and 7,300 deaths from lung cancer in the US. About 7,000 chemicals have been identified in this smoke and at least 250 of them are known to be harmful.

Secondhand smoke has a range of carcinogens and hence, increases the chances of non-smokers developing cancer by 20–30 percent. Out of the 250 harmful chemicals identified, 50 of them are carcinogens. Exposure to these at home, office, or any other public place manifolds the risk of different getting cancers, amongst which lung cancer is the most prevalent one.

Mentioned below is the list of cancers which has been linked to the secondhand smoke and their respective symptoms.

Cancers Caused By Secondhand Smoke And Their Symptoms

1. Lung Cancer

Secondhand smoking causes lung cancer

While cough, congestion, and decreased function of lungs are the minor side effects of secondhand smoking, lung cancer is a life threating one.1 It is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in one or both lungs, which after rapid division form tumors, affecting the overall performance of the lungs.

The symptoms of the same are:

  • A cough that doesn’t subside even after two weeks
  • Chest pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Constant wheezing
  • Blood stained sputum or mucus
  • Hoarse voice
  • Pain in the bones

2. Breast Cancer

Secondhand smoking causes breast cancer

Studies show that constant exposure of women to passive smoking either at home or at workplace increases their risk of developing a breast cancer. This is because breast tissues are more sensitive to the carcinogens produced in secondhand smoke prior to first pregnancy.2 Post-menopausal women, however, did not show any elevated risks.

The symptoms of breast cancer are:

  • Appearance of lumps in the breasts and underarms
  • More than usual tenderness in breasts
  • Unexplained change in the appearance of breasts and nipples
  • Shrinking or swelling of breasts
  • Redness, scaly appearance, and ridges on the breasts

3. Throat Cancer

Secondhand smoking increases risk of throat cancer

Classified as pharyngeal and laryngeal cancers, throat cancer is a rare one and secondhand smoke is one of the causes. Men are more likely to be affected by it. The symptoms include:

  • Constant coughing
  • Trouble and pain when swallowing
  • A sore throat that does not go away
  • Breathing trouble
  • A lump or mass in the neck
  • Ear pain
  • Weight loss

4. Bladder Cancer

Secondhand smoking increases risk of bladder cancer

Research indicates that secondhand cigarette smoke may contribute to bladder carcinogens. And, these carcinogens are likely to affect women more than men. The reason being, men outnumber women in the active smoking.3 The symptoms of bladder cancer are:

  • Pain or burning sensation during urination
  • Blood or blood clots in the urine
  • Frequent urination even during the nights
  • Feeling the urge to urinate, but not being able to pass urine
  • Lower back pain on only one side of the body

In adults, secondhand smoking is also linked to rectal, stomach, and brain cancer. The effect, however, is not as profound like in other organs. In children, secondhand smoking increases the risk of leukemia, lymphoma, liver cancer, and brain tumors.

Public smoking, has, therefore, been banned in most of the countries. Adhering to the rules saves not just yours but also others’ lives!

References   [ + ]

1. on Smoking, Office. “Respiratory Effects in Adults from Exposure to Secondhand Smoke.” (2006).
2. Betts, Kellyn S. “Secondhand suspicions: breast cancer and passive smoking.” Environmental health perspectives 115, no. 3 (2007): A136.
3. Alberg, Anthony J., Anthony Kouzis, Jeanine M. Genkinger, Lisa Gallicchio, Alyce E. Burke, Sandra C. Hoffman, Marie Diener-West, Kathy J. Helzlsouer, and George W. Comstock. “A prospective cohort study of bladder cancer risk in relation to active cigarette smoking and household exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke.” American journal of epidemiology 165, no. 6 (2007): 660-666.