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Mesothelioma and Smoking

Smoking is one of the most harmful activities to human health. It causes a variety of cancers and a number of other health conditions. Most importantly, smoking decreases life expectancies and causes the highest number of deaths that could have been prevented. Smoking has also been found to be connected to poor outcomes for patients with lung cancer and mesothelioma. There is a strong connection between both smoking and asbestos exposure and the risk of developing lung cancer. Quitting is the best single thing a person who smokes can do for better health.

mesothelioma and smoking

The Health Effects of Smoking

According to the National Cancer Institute, smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and has a negative impact on overall health. It is the leading cause of cancer of several types, including lung cancer, esophageal cancer, kidney cancer, throat, mouth, and bladder cancers. It is also the leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S.

In addition to cancer, smoking contributes to and causes strokes, heart disease, macular degeneration, cataracts, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is chronic bronchitis and emphysema, osteoporosis, and diabetes. Smoking makes other conditions worse or increases a person’s risk of developing them: pneumonia and other respiratory infections and asthma.

Smoking weakens the immune system and makes getting pregnant more difficult. Smoking during pregnancy increases the risks of birth defects, miscarriages, and premature babies and low birth weights. Smoking also puts non-smokers at risk of health problems be exposing them to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is known to cause lung cancer in non-smokers and also increases the risks of heart disease and stroke and puts children at an increased risk for infections and asthma.

The Benefits of Quitting

When you quit smoking there are both immediate and long-term benefits. The immediate consequences of quitting include lowering blood pressure and heart rate, lowering levels of carbon monoxide in the blood, better circulation, less coughing and phlegm production, and a better sense of smell and taste. Lung function begins to improve within a month or two of quitting.

Over the long term, there are even more benefits of quitting smoking. In addition to seeing even more improvements in the above measures, quitting reduces the risks of developing a number of diseases: cancer, heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, just to name a few. Quitters are less likely to die from a disease related to smoking, especially those who quit before the age of 40. It’s never too late, though, research has found that when people quit smoking, regardless of age, they see significant extensions in life expectancy.

For someone with an asbestos-related illness, like mesothelioma, quitting can also have significant benefits. Quitting can help you breathe more easily and be more comfortable in general. Smoking exacerbates all of the symptoms of lung disease. Not smoking leads to a better quality of life.

Smoking and Asbestos

Smoking is so detrimental to health because every inhalation of the smoke from a cigarette takes thousands of toxins into the lungs, and from there these toxins can move into the blood, lymphatic system, and throughout the body. The main ingredient is dried leaves from the tobacco plant, which contain a psychoactive compound called nicotine. Nicotine is what makes smoking so addictive and is one of the most harmful compounds in cigarette smoke.

Cigarettes also include a lot of additives for flavor, smell, and smoothness, and this includes a complicated mixture of many chemicals that are toxic and harmful to human health. Just a few of the harmful substances in cigarette smoke are formaldehyde, ammonia, lead, arsenic, hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, benzene, and even radioactive substances, like uranium and radon. These radioactive materials come from the soil in which the tobacco is grown.

Some cigarettes have even been found to contain asbestos, exposure to which is the leading cause of mesothelioma. One documented case of asbestos in cigarettes was the brand called Kent. The makers of these cigarettes in the 1950s used asbestos in the filters. Filters were marketed as something that would trap toxins and make smoking safer—a claim that was later proven false. The Micronite filter developed for Kent cigarettes were later found in a study to cause a person to inhale an average of 170,000 particles of asbestos with just two puffs on a cigarette.

Smoking and Mesothelioma

Anyone who smoked Kent cigarettes during the period in which its filters contained asbestos, or any other cigarettes that contained asbestos, could have later developed mesothelioma. The connection is direct, but even with cigarettes that don’t have asbestos there are still some connections with mesothelioma.

The good news is that there is currently no evidence that smoking actually contributes to the development or the risk of developing mesothelioma. However, it is well known that smoking worsens outcomes for cancer patients. Someone diagnosed with cancer who continues to smoke is at risk of dying earlier than if they quit smoking. Research suggests that cancer patients who quit at the time of diagnosis reduce the risk of dying by up to 40 percent, lower the risks of developing respiratory infections, and lower the risk of having a recurrence if the cancer goes into remission.

Asbestos Lung Cancer and Smoking

While there is no direct connection between mesothelioma and smoking, there is a definite connection between smoking and lung cancer, including lung cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Both asbestos and smoking, separately, can cause lung cancer. Together, the effect is worse. In other words, someone who smokes and is exposed to asbestos is at an increased risk of developing lung cancer as compared to someone who either smokes or is exposed to asbestos, but not both.

One study found that people who both smoke and are exposed to asbestos are anywhere from 30 to 50 times more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer when compared to smokers that are not exposed to asbestos. Another study found that among workers who were exposed to asbestos and who smoked, those with asbestosis, another condition caused by asbestos exposure, were more likely to develop lung cancer. This was as compared to similar workers who had asbestosis but did not smoke.

Smoking and Other Asbestos-Related Illnesses

While there are proven links between asbestos, smoking, and lung cancer, and no real connection between smoking and mesothelioma, there is plenty of evidence that smoking harms lung tissue. This may put a person at a greater risk for being harmed by asbestos. For instance, smoking weakens the lungs, so this may make a person more susceptible to damage from asbestos fibers. Smoking also decreases overall health, which could make a person more vulnerable to the damage from asbestos and for other conditions caused by asbestos, like asbestosis.

Asbestosis is a condition characterized by scarring of lung tissue because of damage caused by asbestos. The disease is not malignant like mesothelioma or lung cancer, but it is progressive. The scarring, or fibrosis, gets worse over time and makes breathing more difficult. Whether smoking increases the risk for asbestosis is not clear. One study that suggests there may be a connection found that between asbestos-exposed workers, those who smoked retained more fibers of asbestos in their lungs.

Tools for Quitting

There are many reasons to quit smoking and very few to continue. The main reason that people keep smoking in the face of so many health risks, both those related to asbestos and the many others, is that it is very hard to do so. Nicotine is highly addictive and it changes pathways in the brain that make it nearly impossible to stop using willpower alone.

If you want to stop smoking, talk to your doctor about medical treatment options. There are plenty of tools available to help you quit. For instance, some people find transitioning to an e-cigarette helps them wean themselves from nicotine. The jury is out on how safe these devices are, but they do not produce smoke like cigarettes do. There are also medications and nicotine replacement patches and gums—both over the counter and prescription—that can aid in quitting. There are also apps and support groups for smokers looking to quit. Some people have even found hypnosis to be useful.

Asbestos exposure is something that too many people were unable to avoid because of lack of knowledge. And many of those people suffered the consequences. What we all know is that smoking is terrible for health and that it exacerbates asbestos illnesses like mesothelioma and asbestosis. It even works with asbestos to cause lung cancer. Whether you have been exposed to asbestos or not, if you have been diagnosed with an asbestos illness or are still healthy, quitting smoking or not smoking is one of the most important things you can do for your health.

Page edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.

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