Another study was recently published in the British Journal of Cancer. This case-control study looked at Swedish-born women aged 50-74 years whose invasive breast cancers were identified between October 1993 and March 1995. Examination of the patient’s smoking habits included the smoking time period, duration or intensity, and frequency. Other health factors such as family and genetic background, and obesity were also observed. Despite the consideration of all these aspects, the association between smoking and advanced breast cancer could not be made. Nevertheless, those who conducted this study did discover a greater risk in breast cancer for women who consume alcohol (refer to the image on the right). Cancer specialist Wendy Y. Chen stated, “The more alcohol consumed on a regular basis, the greater the risk.” Statistically speaking, “one drink a day raises the figure to 9.4 cases per 100.” The reason is that alcohol is responsible for changing the way in which the body metabolizes estrogen, and because the majority of breast cancers are “fueled by the hormone estrogen,” higher consumption of alcohol contributes to higher blood estrogen levels. It should be noted that the relationship between smokers and the intake of alcohol is that smokers tend to drink more than nonsmokers. Since the level of alcohol is significant, the risk of the disease is higher.
The discovery that smoking does not have a considerable risk for breast cancer (though some researchers disagree) is an important yet surprising one. After much effort and time, anti-tobacco measures even gave up on the pursuit to link smoking with breast cancer. Is this good news for the tobacco industry? Not necessarily. Smoking does initiate the development of several other illnesses and diseases, including lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke. “Lung cancer has overtaken breast cancer as the leading cause of cancer deaths in women,” said Irma H. Russo, from Fox Chase Cancer Center. More importantly, heart disease is the number one cause of death among Americans. The discussion of the research in this post, therefore, does not justify the habit of smoking. Physicians will continue to warn their patients against unhealthy habits, especially when studies show that the association between smoking and breast cancer is “still somewhat controversial.” Even so, it will be interesting to see whether or not research will again disprove the current findings associated with smokers and advanced breast cancer in the future.