Smoking & Lung Cancer

“According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), about six million people, of whom 1.5 million are women, die from tobacco use every year, a figure that is predicted to grow to more than eight million a year by 2030 without urgent and proactive action by governments, businesses and civil society.

In Malaysia, statistics show that smoking-related death accounts for about a fifth of all deaths annually and more than 15% of total hospitalisations were from smoking-related illnesses. The National Health Morbidity Survey 2015 showed about five million or 22.8% of the Malaysian population aged 15 and above were smokers.”

The Star Malaysia, 23 May 2017

How Smoking Causes Cancer?

You may think a cigarette is just tobacco wrapped in paper, but it’s much more than that. When a cigarette burns, it releases a dangerous cocktail of over 5,000 different chemicals. Many of these chemicals are poisonous and more than 70 may cause cancer. It’s not just the smoker who is exposed to these chemicals. There are also high levels of the smoke coming off the tip of a cigarette while it burns. So, anyone around the smoker breathes them in as well (secondary smoking)

Smoking is by far the biggest preventable cause of cancer. Smoking accounts for more than 1 in 4 UK cancer deaths, and nearly a fifth of all cancer cases. Chemicals in cigarette smoke enter our bloodstream and can then affect the entire body. This is why smoking causes so many diseases, including at least 14 types of cancer, heart disease and various lung diseases. Smoking causes more than 4 in 5 cases of lung cancer. Lung cancer survival is one of the lowest of all cancers and is the most common cause of cancer death.

The main way that smoking causes cancer is by damaging our DNA, including key genes that protect us against cancer. Many of the chemicals found in cigarettes have been shown to cause DNA damage, including benzene, polonium-210, benzo(a)pyrene and nitrosamines.

Smokers are also less able to handle toxic chemicals than those with healthy lungs and blood. Chemicals in cigarette smoke make it harder for smokers to neutralise or remove toxins and can make their immune systems less effective too.

There are 2 types of tobacco smoke:

  • Mainstream smoke, which is directly inhaled through the filter end of the cigarette
  • Sidestream smoke, which comes from the burning tip of the cigarette

Breathing in other people’s smoke can cause cancer. Passive smoking can increase a non-smoker’s risk of getting lung cancer by a quarter, and may also increase the risk of cancers of the larynx (voice box) and pharynx (upper throat).

Sidestream smoke is about 4 times more toxic than mainstream smoke, although people inhale it in a more diluted form. This is because sidestream smoke contains much higher levels of many of the poisons and cancer-causing chemicals in cigarettes, including:

  • At least 3 times as much carbon monoxide
  • 10-30 times more nitrosamines
  • Between 15–300 times more ammonia

Lung Cancer:

People who smoke are more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers. A study found that people who smoked around 20 cigarettes a day had 26 times the lung cancer risk of non-smokers and people who smoked around 3 cigarettes a day still had 6 times the lung cancer risk of non-smokers.

Lung cancer doesn’t usually cause noticeable symptoms until it’s spread through the lungs or into other parts of the body. This means the outlook for the condition isn’t as good as many other types of cancer.

As highlighted earlier, there are usually no signs or symptoms in the early stages of lung cancer, but many people with the condition eventually develop symptoms including:

  • a persistent cough
  • coughing up blood
  • persistent breathlessness
  • unexplained tiredness and weight loss
  • an ache or pain when breathing or coughing

You should see your GP if you have these symptoms.

Overall, about 1 in 3 people with the condition live for at least a year after they’re diagnosed and about 1 in 20 people live at least 10 years. However, survival rates can vary widely, depending on how far cancer has spread at the time of diagnosis. Early diagnosis can make a big difference.

Lung Cancer Prevention:

  • Don’t smoke.If you’ve never smoked, don’t start. Talk to your children about not smoking so that they can understand how to avoid this major risk factor for lung cancer. Begin conversations about the dangers of smoking with your children early so that they know how to react to peer pressure.
  • Stop smoking.Stop smoking now. Quitting reduces your risk of lung cancer, even if you’ve smoked for years. Talk to your doctor about strategies and stop-smoking aids that can help you quit. Options include nicotine replacement products, medications and support groups.
  • Avoid second-hand smoke.If you live or work with a smoker, urge him or her to quit. At the very least, ask him or her to smoke outside. Avoid areas where people smoke, such as bars and restaurants, and seek out smoke-free options.
  • Avoid carcinogens at work.Take precautions to protect yourself from exposure to toxic chemicals at work. Follow your employer’s precautions. For instance, if you’re given a face mask for protection, always wear it. Ask your doctor what more you can do to protect yourself at work. Your risk of lung damage from workplace carcinogens increases if you smoke.
  • Eat a diet full of fruits and vegetables.Choose a healthy diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables. Food sources of vitamins and nutrients are best.
  • Exercise most days of the week.If you don’t exercise regularly, start out slowly. Try to exercise most days of the week.

Consider taking supplements. The more you smoke, the more toxins are available in your body. The risk of getting lung cancer can be reduced by taking body detox supplements which help to remove heavy metals, harmful chemicals and toxins from your body. There are also supplements that help to improve your lung function.


  1. The Star Malaysia
  2. Cancer Research UK
  3. NHS
  4. Mayo Clinic