We’ve all heard that smoking cigarettes is bad for our health, but exactly how bad? You might think – what’s the worst thing that could happen? Or you might think that you’re an exception to the rule and you won’t have any major health problems.

You could regret these thoughts once you’re diagnosed with a serious disease, so try harder to quit this habit. Most people think that smoking will only lead to lung cancer or other pulmonary problems. However, you could get diagnosed with breast cancer if you smoke throughout your lifetime.

The American Cancer Society found through a research study that breast cancer risk is increased among women who smoke especially those who start smoking before giving birth to their first child. One study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2013 followed more than 73,000 women over a thirteen-year period. The cases of invasive breast cancer during the follow-up was 24 percent higher in smokers than nonsmokers and 13 percent higher in former smokers.

Additionally, the Collaborative Breast Cancer Study found that breast cancer survivors who are smokers and continue to smoke after being diagnosed are more likely to die from the disease than those who have never smoked, according to the American Cancer Society.

These patients were also more likely to die from cardiovascular disease and respiratory conditions. Research backing up these finding was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2016. The study was completed by researchers from the University of Wisconsin, Dartmouth College, and Harvard University.

More than 20,000 women between 1998 and 2008 were followed. The highest risk of death was found among long-term smokers, those who smoked heavily, or former smokers who only quit less than five years ago.

Clearly, smoking is harmful to the health of both cancer-free individuals as well as breast cancer survivors. Another important finding to point out is the risk of radiotherapy for long-term smokers.

A recent study published this year in the Journal of Clinical Oncology finds that long-term smokers undergoing breast cancer treatment may actually face serious risks from radiotherapy that don’t outweigh the benefits. For nonsmokers and former smokers, however, the benefits of radiotherapy for breast cancer treatment outweighed the risks.

“The absolute hazards from modern breast cancer radiotherapy regimens for typical patients depend on the lung and heart doses from modern regimens, the excess rate ratios per Gy for lung cancer and heart disease, and further lung cancer and heart disease mortality rates in the general population,” Carolyn Taylor, DPhil, clinical research fellow at Nuffield Department of Population Health at University of Oxford, and colleagues wrote.

“Women who smoke throughout adulthood have approximately 20 times the lung cancer mortality rates and four times the cardiac mortality rates of nonsmokers. Particularly for lung cancer, therefore, the absolute risks from breast cancer radiotherapy could be appreciable for smokers, even if they are small for nonsmokers. Hence, absolute risks of radiotherapy should be estimated separately for smokers and nonsmokers.”

Clearly, smoking has many impacts on breast cancer treatment and survival for breast cancer patients. To reduce your risk of breast cancer, you will need to quit smoking. The American Lung Association has a program called Freedom From Smoking that may help you quit the habit and improve your health for years to come.

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