Thanks to years of cancer research and public-health messaging, most people understand that smoking tobacco is a leading cause of cancer death. Smoking tobacco puts people at a higher risk of most types of cancer — but multiple myeloma is a rare exception. Smoking neither causes the condition nor increases one’s relative risk of developing it. However, smoking still poses general health risks — plus it can interfere with multiple myeloma treatments and worsen symptoms.
Here’s what to know about multiple myeloma, tobacco, and you.
Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer in the same family as leukemia and lymphoma. More specifically, multiple myeloma is a type of myeloid or plasma cell cancer. It causes the body to make abnormal and defective plasma cells (cancerous myeloma cells) and mass produce them at a rapid rate. Eventually, these myeloma cells outnumber and crowd out the healthy productive plasma cells. Multiple myeloma also results in tumors called plasmacytomas that begin in the bone marrow.
Research shows that there is no apparent direct connection between smoking tobacco and multiple myeloma. Researchers aren’t certain what causes multiple myeloma, but they believe genetic and environmental factors are at the root. Environmental factors could include exposure to certain pesticides and obesity.
Ironically, tobacco smoke is not one of the environmental factors linked to multiple myeloma. A person’s smoking status doesn’t affect their outlook if they are diagnosed with myeloma.
In fact, in one study, women who smoked tobacco had a lower risk of multiple myeloma than those who formerly smoked. Moreover, both groups had a lower risk than women who had never smoked tobacco. However, it’s not necessarily the case that smoking can directly reduce myeloma risk. Other factors may be at play. For example, people who smoke may be more likely to have other characteristics that reduce myeloma risk.
In short, no. No amount, type, or way of smoking tobacco is safe. Tobacco smoke contains at least 70 known cancer-causing agents including arsenic, benzene, and formaldehyde.
According to the World Health Organization, smoking is one of the world’s leading public health threats, due to its undeniably harmful impact. Smoking tobacco accounts for nearly more than 7 million deaths per year worldwide. It can be linked to almost one-third of all cancer deaths, and it costs the U.S. hundreds of billions of dollars annually in medical care costs and lost productivity.
Smoking tobacco may not directly affect your multiple myeloma risk, but it does pose a threat to your overall health, increases your risk of developing other types of cancer, and can have an impact on your cancer treatment. In addition, smoking presents a secondhand health threat to people around you.
Smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco, heated tobacco products, and e-cigarettes (vaping) are alternative ways people can use tobacco. People often perceive these methods as being safer than smoking tobacco. However, that’s not the case. For example, e-cigarettes have been shown to increase cancer risk as well. Vaping can expose a person to toxic chemicals, cause inflammation, and contribute to cell DNA damage.
Although a direct relationship between smoking and multiple myeloma hasn’t been found, overcoming your smoking habit is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Tobacco use is an addictive, expensive, and dangerous behavior. If you’re at increased risk of or recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma, quitting your tobacco habit offers you invaluable mental and physical health benefits.
If you are undergoing treatment for multiple myeloma and you quit smoking, your cancer treatment regimen will be more effective. Quitting can also ensure your body heals more quickly after a round of harsh treatment like chemo, a complex procedure like a stem cell transplant, or surgery.
Sometimes, smoking tobacco can make the already-toxic chemotherapy drugs more toxic or make them less effective. Tobacco smoke and its wide array of toxic chemicals can change the outcomes of cancer treatments, too. Smoking has been shown to contribute to delays, incorrect dosing, and even interfering with treatment adherence and consistency.
Multiple myeloma can cause secondary health issues, including kidney problems, low blood cell counts, and anemia. These conditions combined with multiple myeloma can result in breathing problems. Smoking frequently causes breathing and lung issues on its own and can worsen existing breathing problems.
Some multiple myeloma treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation (radiotherapy), commonly cause severe side effects like nausea, fatigue, and pain. Smoking can intensify and prolong some of these cancer treatment side effects. Quitting smoking can also cut down on the risk of infections, a common side effect of chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
Smoking doesn’t just come with a high cost to your health. Smoking is not cheap. A pack of cigarettes in America costs as much as $13 and is taxed as much as $5 in some places. With the average number of cigarettes smoked per day around 15, quitting could put more than $3,500 back in your pocket every year.
This dollar amount doesn’t include smoking-related expenses such as higher health care costs and insurance premiums charged to some smokers. You can’t put a price on your health, but you can put a price tag on the value of quitting smoking.
There is no safe way to use tobacco. However, if you’re a current smoker, cutting down on the amount you smoke is an important step toward quitting for good.
Despite how difficult it may feel, you should talk to your doctors about your smoking habits. Don’t worry about getting into trouble or being judged. Your health care providers — yes, even your cancer treatment team — will be able to help you quit.
Using tobacco is, by design, hard to stop. The active ingredient, nicotine, is a highly addictive substance. In most cases, tobacco use isn’t a choice, it’s an addiction. Breaking the habit isn’t easy, but it is doable. There are many free resources to help you along your journey to quit. Remember, it’s never too late to quit smoking.
MyMyelomaTeam is the social network for people with multiple myeloma and their loved ones. This community is 15,000 members strong and counting. Here, folks come together to share information, gain strength, and lend support to people like them, who understand life with multiple myeloma.
Have you quit smoking since being diagnosed with multiple myeloma? Do you have any insider tips or tools? What advice would you give to others who are thinking about quitting tobacco? Post in the comments below. Better yet, join and start a conversation on MyMyelomaTeam.