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Part I Part II Part III
The Connection Between Smoking and Prostate Cancer Smoking and Your Telomeres Smoking and Race

 

If you smoke cigarettes, you are more likely to die of prostate cancer.

Wait, how can this be?  It’s the lungs that are up there in the combat zone, inhaling all that smoke.  The prostate is just minding its own business!  How could it possibly be affected by smoking a cigarette?

Well, it is, and in more ways than anybody knew, says Johns Hopkins epidemiologist Elizabeth Platz, Sc.D., M.P.H., whose pioneering research has helped establish smoking as a risk factor for prostate cancer death.  “Men who smoke, even if they don’t have a diagnosis of prostate cancer, are more likely to die of prostate cancer in the future,” she says.  “Men who have been treated for prostate cancer who keep smoking are more likely to die of it, too, because cancer is more likely to recur.”

Smoking affects every cell in the body, notes Platz, and “cigarettes, when burned, are considered to be complete carcinogens,”(cancer-causing agents).  Look at what happens in the lungs of the long-term smoker:  “Smoking causes DNA mutations along with inflammation, and in emphysema and bronchitis, it basically replaces the normal cells that line the lungs with scar tissue.”  Over time, the lung damage from smoking is like that buildup of soot in the chimney that can cause a fire.  What about the prostate?  Does smoking cause inflammation there, too?  The exact mechanisms aren’t fully understood yet, but scientists are making progress.  “For years, everybody thought smoking had nothing to do with prostate cancer at all,” says Platz.  “Wow, were we wrong!”

Lethal and non-lethal prostate cancer are two very different things.   Smoking doesn’t seem to raise the risk of low-grade prostate cancer – the kind that is very treatable, and in fact, may not ever need to be treated.   But it does raise your risk of having cancer progress after diagnosis, and it raises your risk of dying from the bad kind of prostate cancer.   “Smoking is just plain bad,” says Platz.

Now be honest:  If you’re a smoker, did you just glaze over when you read that last sentence?  “Smoking is bad – why didn’t anybody tell me?” said no smoker, ever.  If you’re sick of hearing it, you’re not alone.  “People have gotten tired of the smoking message,” says Platz. “But they have not heard it in the context of prostate cancer.”

 

Janet Farrar Worthington
Janet Farrar Worthington is an award-winning science writer and has written and edited numerous health publications and contributed to several other medical books. In addition to writing on medicine, Janet also writes about her family, her former life on a farm in Virginia, her desire to own more chickens, and whichever dog is eyeing the dinner dish.