Forty Percent of Cancers Diagnosed in United States Linked to Tobacco Use
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Forty Percent of Cancers Diagnosed in United States Linked to Tobacco Use

Although fewer adults now smoke cigarettes, tobacco remains the most preventable cancer

November 11, 2016

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that 40 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S. might be linked to tobacco use.

Use of tobacco is the leading preventable cause of both cancer and deaths from the disease. Current evidence indicates that it causes additional types of cancer besides lung cancer, including cancers of the mouth and throat, voice box, esophagus, stomach, kidney, pancreas, liver, bladder, cervix, colon, and rectum, as well as acute myeloid leukemia.

Between 2009 and 2013, approximately 660,000 people across the country were annually diagnosed with a cancer related to the use of tobacco, and roughly 343,000 people died from the disease. Cigarette smoking caused three out of 10 cancer deaths, but progress has been made in that area: approximately 1.3 million cancer deaths related to tobacco have been avoided since 1990.

"There are more than 36 million smokers in the U.S. ," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. "Sadly, nearly half could die prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses, including 6 million from cancer, unless we implement the programs that will help smokers quit."

Data released by the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) indicate that current cigarette smoking among adults in the U.S. fell from 20.9 percent, or 45.1 million, in 2005 to 15.1 percent, or 36.5 million, in 2015. There was a 1.7 percentage point decrease during 2014-2015 alone, which resulted in the lowest prevalence of cigarette smoking among adults since the NHIS first started collecting such data in 1965.

"When states invest in comprehensive cancer control programs, including tobacco control, we see greater benefits for everyone and fewer deaths from tobacco-related cancers. We have made progress, but our work is not done," said Lisa C. Richardson, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control.

Comprehensive cancer control programs have several focuses: lowering cancer risk, discovering the disease early, improving cancer treatments, helping more people survive the disease, improving quality of life for survivors, and doing a better job helping communities that are disproportionately affected by the disease. These programs organize attempts to put into practice proven strategies to stop tobacco use initiation among youth and young adults, to encourage people using tobacco to quit, to get rid of secondhand smoke exposure, and to discover and get rid of disparities related to tobacco. However, the benefits of these efforts have not spread to every state and every person; resources for tobacco prevention and control, as well as access to medical care and treatments for cancer, vary widely across the country.

The CDC has found that:

  • The incidence and death rates were highest among African-Americans when compared with other races or ethnicities, people living in counties with a relatively low proportion of college graduates, and people living in counties with high levels of poverty.
  • Incidence rates were highest in the Northeast (202 per 100,000 people) and lowest in the West (170 per 100,000 people).
  • Incidence rates for cancers linked to tobacco use remain higher among men (250 per 100,000) than among women (148 per 100,000).

There are health benefits to quitting smoking at any age, including lowering the risk of either getting or dying from cancer. Stopping improves cancer patients' prognosis and lowers the risk of getting a secondary cancer, a cancer occurring in a different organ, in both cancer patients and survivors.

There are ways that states and communities can help, including making quitting resources available to anyone who wants them and paying for comprehensive tobacco prevention and control programs at levels recommended by the CDC.

Anyone interested in obtaining free help to quit smoking can get it by calling (800) 784-2669. This help includes free counseling as well as information about the seven medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for quitting smoking.