Reducing Tobacco and Alcohol Use
Smoking and drinking often go hand in hand during social activities and, for some people, in their daily lives to relieve stress or boredom. The combination of harmful substances in alcohol and tobacco can increase your risk of cancer. Reducing tobacco and alcohol use is critical for your overall health and can decrease your risk of cancer.
Prevalence of cancer in smokers and drinkers
Lifestyle choices are important in reducing your risk of developing non-heredity cancer from tobacco or alcohol use, poor diet or lack of exercise because nearly 40% of cancers can be prevented. Consider these surprising statistics:
- People who drink and smoke regularly are five times more likely to develop mouth or throat cancer.
- According to the American Cancer Society, alcohol use is related to about 6% of all cancers.
- Tobacco use causes about 20% of all cancers.
- Smoking causes about 80% of lung cancers and is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S.
- Drinking and/or smoking can increase the risk of other cancers, including mouth, throat, liver esophagus, liver, colon/rectum and breast cancer.
How tobacco use affects health
We know smoking is bad for our health. Since the late 1940s, it has been linked to lung cancer and other diseases. In the last several decades, smoking has been banned in public places because of the risks of second-hand smoke. But it is still the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S.
In addition to cancer, smoking can cause heart disease, stroke, lung disease, emphysema, diabetes and chronic bronchitis. Cigarettes contain chemicals with cancer-causing carcinogens that can damage the DNA of healthy cells. The damage can cause cells to become abnormal and grow and multiply, which is how cancerous tumors develop.
Smoking damages your lung’s airways and destroys the millions of tiny air sacs that help you pull oxygen into your body. As more air sacs become damaged, lung function decreases, your immune system weakens, and you may become more susceptible to diseases like cancer.
Smokeless options like chewing tobacco or snuff also contain cancer-causing chemicals and increase the risk of mouth, tongue, cheek and gum cancers. E-cigarettes are newer to the market, so there is not much research on their long-term health effects, but they also contain chemicals, and many of them are unregulated.
People exposed to second-hand smoke are also at risk of inhaling the same toxic chemicals that can cause cancer.
How alcohol use affects health
We know the short-term effects of drinking, like impaired judgment and loss of coordination. Those symptoms usually subside the morning after, but the impact on your health can be longer-lasting.
A recent study shows that most people do not think there is a link between drinking and cancer. Any type of alcohol can increase cancer risk, including wine, beer and liquor. The more you drink, the greater the chance you have of developing a form of cancer.
When you drink, your body breaks down the alcohol into a chemical called acetaldehyde, which damages your DNA in a way your body cannot repair. Cells with damaged DNA can grow quickly and become cancerous.
Alcohol use can prevent your body from absorbing nutrients needed for healthy cells. Folate, a natural form of vitamin B9, helps lowers the risk of heart disease. But alcohol can deplete folate levels in your body. Low levels of folate have been linked to some cancers.
Excessive alcohol use can contribute to being overweight, which increases the risk of several types of cancer. Heavy drinkers are more likely to develop liver issues and have increased blood pressure that can lead to heart disease or stroke.
How to quit smoking
The best way to take care of your health is to never smoke and to quit if you do. The dangers of smoking have been known for decades, but it is still a real problem among Americans. Nicotine is highly addictive, making cessation difficult.
If you already use tobacco, smoking cessation may be one of the hardest things you do, but it will give you the best chance of not developing health issues, diseases or cancer. Your health will improve within 20 minutes of putting out that last cigarette and continue to improve for years.
- After 20 minutes, your heart rate drops
- After 12 hours, carbon monoxide levels drop to normal
- In 2 weeks to 3 months, your risk of heart attack begins to decrease, and lung function improves
- In 1 to 9 months, coughing and shortness of break subside
- After 1 year, your risk of coronary heart decrease is cut in half
- After 5 years, your stroke risk is reduced
- After 10 years, your risk of lung cancer is half that of a smoker, and the risk of other cancers decreases
Studies have shown that people enrolled in tobacco cessation programs have successfully quit smoking. The Centers for Disease Control offers resources for people who want to quit smoking, including how to make a plan to reduce withdrawal, cravings and any stressors that may make it difficult to stop.
How to quit or reduce drinking
The American Cancer Society (ACS) says it is best not to drink alcohol, but it is often a large part of our social activities. If you do drink socially, the ACS recommends limiting alcohol consumption for both men and women. The guidelines say that women should only have one drink per day, and men should have no more than two.
All alcoholic drinks contain different levels of ethanol depending on the beverage type. For this reason, one drink is measured by the amount of ethanol it has and is outlined as follows:
- 12 ounces of regular beer
- 5 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of liquor (or a shot)
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism created guidelines on alcohol consumption to understand drinking patterns that could lead to an alcohol use disorder.
Men who consume more than four drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks a week, or woman who has more than three drinks on any given day or more than seven drinks per week, are considered heavy drinkers. If it is difficult to cut back or stop drinking, contact your doctor or get help through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
With an estimated 1.8 million new cancer cases occurring every year, you should consider reducing tobacco and alcohol use along with other lifestyle changes to decrease your risk of cancer.
Cancer prevention in North Carolina
Personalized Hematology-Oncology offers primary care medicine to help you understand your risks and learn to make better decisions about your health. Call us today to schedule an appointment with our primary care physician for a personalized approach to your health.