Smoking Linked to Most Common Type of Breast Cancer

Smoking Linked to Most Common Type of Breast Cancer

When you look at a list of breast cancer risk factors, one risk you often don’t see is smoking. For years, research has suggested a connection between smoking and breast cancer, but the link has been controversial. Now we have another piece of evidence: Smoking appears to increase young women’s risk of the most common type of breast cancer, estrogen receptor (ER) positive cancer.

Take a look at 10 anti-smoking milestones.

Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle compared more than 900 women between the ages of 20 and 44 who had been diagnosed with breast cancer to a similar number of cancer-free women. Most of the women in the study (778) had ER positive breast cancer. The remaining women (182) had triple-negative breast cancer, a less common and more aggressive type of breast cancer. The study showed that women who smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for at least 10 years had a 60% higher risk of developing ER positive breast cancer, but the risk of triple-negative cancer was no higher.

What is ER positive breast cancer
About 75% of all breast cancers are ER positive, meaning they grow in response to signals from the hormone estrogen. According to the American Cancer Society, women with hormone receptor-positive cancers can be treated with hormone-blocking medications, and they tend to have a better prognosis than women with other types of breast cancer. However, just because the prognosis is better, doesn’t mean you should try your luck and keep lighting up if you’re a current smoker.

The case against smoking
It’s becoming increasingly clear that smoking for years -- and especially early in life --leads to breast cancer. Previous research has found a 34% higher risk of breast cancer in women who smoked for 15 to 35 years, and a 60% greater risk in those who smoked 40 years or more, compared to women who never lit up. And in 2013, a large study showed that women who started smoking at a young age had the highest risk of all.

How to kick the habit
Smoking causes many other major diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive lung disease, lung cancer -- and the list goes on and on. In fact, smoking is so bad for you that it can make your RealAge up to 15 years older. The good news: The immediate benefits of quitting smoking are substantial. Try these three tricks to kick your cigarette habit to the curb:

  • Hit the gym. Exercise is a proven crave-crusher. Simply walking every day engages your brain’s emotional centers, releasing mood-brightening compounds that dial down tobacco usage. Strength training likely helps the same way.
  • Chew on this. Lots of ex-smokers talk about how they miss the ritual of puffing on a cigarette when they quit. Chewing on cinnamon sticks can help with the psychological aspect of withdrawal by keeping both your mouth and hands busy.
  • Drink your milk. According to one study out of Duke University, smokers reported that drinking milk worsened the taste of cigarettes, making them less likely to want to light up.

Medically reviewed in July 2018.

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