How can smoking affect your health?
Tobacco use accounts for nearly 1 in 3 cancer deaths. Tens of thousands of women will die this year from lung cancer, which has shot past breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer death in women. About 87% of lung cancer deaths will be caused by smoking.
Not only does smoking increase the risk for lung cancer, it’s also a risk factor for cancers of the:
- Larynx (voice box)
- Pharynx (throat)
- Nose and sinuses
- Esophagus (swallowing tube)
- Ovary (mucinous)
Smoking is also linked to acute myeloid leukemia.
Smoking raises your risk of heart disease and stroke
Women who smoke greatly increase their risk of heart disease (the leading killer among women) and stroke. The risk goes up with the number of cigarettes smoked and the length of time a woman has been smoking. Even though most of the women who die of heart disease are past menopause, smoking increases the risk more in younger women than in older women. Studies suggest that smoking cigarettes increases the risk of heart disease even more among younger women who are also taking birth control pills.
Smoking damages your lungs
Smoking damages the airways and small air sacs in the lungs. This can cause chronic coughing, wheezing, trouble breathing, and long-term (chronic) lung disease. More than 90% of deaths due to chronic bronchitis and emphysema – together these are known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – are caused by smoking. The risk of COPD goes up with the number of cigarettes smoked each day and with the length of time a woman has been smoking. Female smokers aged 35 or older are almost 13 times more likely to die from emphysema or bronchitis than those who have never smoked. Smoking “low tar” or “light” cigarettes does not reduce these risks, or any of the other health risks of tobacco.
The lungs grow more slowly in teenage girls who smoke. And adult women who smoke start losing lung function in early adulthood.
Smoking causes other health problems
Smoking can cause or worsen poor blood flow in the arms and legs (a condition known as peripheral vascular disease or PVD). This can limit everyday activities such as walking, and lead to open sores that won’t heal. Even worse, surgery to improve the blood flow often fails in people who keep smoking. This is why many doctors who operate on blood vessels (vascular surgeons) won’t do certain surgeries on patients with PVD unless they stop smoking. Stopping smoking lowers a woman’s risk of PVD. And in people who already have PVD, quitting smoking improves the odds that PVD treatments will work.
Women who smoke, especially after going through menopause, have lower bone density (thinner bones). This means they have a higher risk for broken bones, including hip fracture, than women who do not smoke. They may also be at higher risk for getting rheumatoid arthritis and cataracts (clouding of the lenses of the eyes), as well as age-related macular degeneration, which can cause blindness.
Smoking affects your reproductive health
Tobacco use can damage a woman’s reproductive health. Women who smoke are more likely to have trouble getting pregnant. Smokers tend to be younger at the start of menopause than non-smokers and may have more unpleasant symptoms while going through menopause.
Smoking can also cause problems during pregnancy that can hurt both mother and baby. Smokers have a higher risk of the placenta (the organ that protects and nourishes the growing fetus) growing too close to the opening of the uterus. Smokers are also more likely to have early membrane ruptures and placentas that separate from the uterus too early. Serious bleeding, early delivery (premature birth), and emergency Caesarean section (C-section) may result from these problems. Smokers are more likely to have miscarriages, stillbirths, and low birth-weight babies, too.
Last Medical Review: 11/08/2012
Last Revised: 01/17/2013