Does smoking cause gynaecological cancer?

Modifiable lifestyle factors, such as obesity, lack of physical activity, and smoking, are known to increase your chance of developing some cancers.

Cancer Council Australia reports tobacco smoke contains more than 7000 chemicals, with over 70 known to cause cancer. When someone smokes, they and those around them (passive smoking) are exposed to many cancer-causing chemicals that can affect many organs in your body. Whilst lung cancer is the most common form of cancer caused by smoking, it can also increase your risk of some gynaecological cancers.

Ovarian Cancer

quit smoking xlIn 2012, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified mucinous ovarian tumors as causally related to tobacco smoking, but not for other subtypes of ovarian cancer.

A Meta-analysis suggests that current smoking doubles a woman's risk of developing mucinous ovarian cancer. Combined, these studies included a total of 910 women with mucinous and 5564 with non-mucinous ovarian cancers.

A 2016 study confirmed this finding, that cigarette smokers of women might be at a higher risk of ovarian cancer than non-smokers.

Cervical cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, women who smoke are approximately twice as likely as non-smokers to get cervical cancer. In woman who smoke, tobacco by-products have been found in their cervical mucus. These tobacco by-products damage the DNA of cervix cells and may contribute to the development of cervical cancer. Smoking can make the immune system less effective in fighting HPV infections.

Vulval cancer

Research suggests smoking also increases the risk of developing vulvar cancer, compared to women who have never smoked. Among women who have a history of HPV infection, smoking further increases the risk of developing vulvar cancer. A study has shown, if women are infected with a high-risk HPV, they have a much higher risk of developing vulvar cancer if they smoke.

For both, cervical and vulval cancer I believe that smoking prepares the soil so that HPV can exert maximum tissue damage.

Smoking can also cause precancerous changes, such as Cervical or Vulval Intraepithelial Neoplasia (CIN, VIN). Untreated some of these precancerous changes can turn into cancer. Of course, CIN and VIN can recur and cause further damage.

I also advise women who smoke and who require treatment for CIN and VIN that quitting smoking will lower the risk of a recurrence. Smoking also lowers the blood oxygen levels and blood oxygen is critically important for surgical wound healing and tissue repair during radiation treatment or chemotherapy.

Endometrial cancer

Adversely, some research suggests smoking could decrease the risk of endometrial (uterine) cancer, perhaps through antiestrogenic effects (blocks the production or utilisation of estrogens, or inhibits their effects). In a meta-analysis of ten cohort studies, the risk was reduced by 19% mainly in postmenopausal women. However, given many known negative health consequences of smoking, this is not a sufficient reason to smoke.

Quitting smoking

Although certain factors such as smoking can increase a woman's risk for developing gynaecological cancer, they do not always cause the cancer.

Even if you have smoked for many years when you quit smoking, there are immediate and long-term health benefits. As an ex-smoker I can assure you of this.

For further help about quitting smoking talk to your GP or Quitline (13 78 48) is a confidential, free service for people who want to quit smoking.

If you wish to receive regular information, tips, resources, reassurance and inspiration for up-to-date care, that is safe and sound and in line with latest research please subscribe here to receive my blog, or like Dr Andreas Obermair on Facebook. Should you find this article interesting, please feel free to share it. 

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