CDC: 40% of Cancer Cases in US Might Be Linked to Tobacco

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 40% of cancers diagnosed in the US may have a link to tobacco use. The report was published in the November 11, 2016 issue of Vital Signs.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of cancer and cancer deaths. It can cause cancer of the liver, colon and rectum, lung, oral cavity, esophagus, pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), stomach, pancreas, bladder, kidney, and cervix, and acute myeloid leukemia.

According to the CDC, about 660,000 people in the US were diagnosed each year between 2009 and 2013 with a cancer related to tobacco use. About 343,000 people died.

Cigarette smoking drops, but not equally across populations

In a separate article in the November 11, 2016 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, the CDC released data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS). The data shows that current cigarette smoking among US adults declined from 20.9% in 2005 to 15.1% in 2015. That’s the lowest prevalence of adult cigarette smoking since the CDC began the NHIS survey in 1965.

Lisa C. Richardson, MD, MPH, director of CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control credits tobacco control programs for the decline. “When states invest in comprehensive cancer control programs—including tobacco control—we see greater benefits for everyone and fewer deaths from tobacco-related cancers. We have made progress, but our work is not done,” said Richardson in a statement.

Comprehensive tobacco control programs coordinate efforts to use proven strategies to keep young people from starting tobacco use, to help users quit, to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke, and to find and stop tobacco-related disparities. Proven strategies include increasing prices of tobacco products, implementing and enforcing comprehensive smoke-free laws, and carrying out hard-hitting media campaigns.

However, not all populations have benefited equally from these efforts. According to the CDC, incidence and death rates for tobacco-related cancers were highest among African-Americans compared with other races or ethnicities. They were also higher among people with less education and in places with high poverty levels. Incidence rates were highest in the Northeast and lowest in the West. Incidence rates were also higher among men than women.

Tobacco comes in other forms

The CDC data focuses on cigarette smoking. However, the use of other tobacco products has increased in recent years. These include cigars, pipes, hookahs, and electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes).

E-cigarettes contain and emit addictive nicotine, flavorings, and a variety of chemicals, some known to be toxic or cause cancer - and research hasn’t yet established the level of potential risk posed by these non-standardized products. The amounts of nicotine and other substances a person gets from the wide variety of these devices can vary sharply.

E-cigarettes can lead to nicotine addiction, especially in young people who may be experimenting with them. They may lead kids to try other tobacco products. This is of particular concern, because the use of e-cigarettes among middle and high school students is rising rapidly, even while use of traditional tobacco products is declining.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Vital Signs: Disparities in Tobaccco-Related Cancer Incidence and Mortality – United States, 2004-2013. Published November 11, 2016 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). First author S. Jane Henley, MSPH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta.

Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults — United States, 2005–2015. Published November 11, 2016 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). First author Ahmen Jamal, MBBS, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta.

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