Canadian study ties early smoking to breast cancer occurrence

Monica LaBelle

Longtime adult female smokers who intend to quit soon may be too late to avoid the risk of breast cancer, according to a study released Thursday from the British Columbia Cancer Agency.

Scientists found that women who began smoking regularly within five years after their first period were 70 percent more likely than nonsmokers to develop breast cancer before the age of 50.

For the study, the agency – a center whose goals are to prevent, detect, screen, diagnose and research cancer – used British Columbia’s cancer registry to find and interview 318 premenopausal women and 700 postmenopausal women who had breast cancer. They then compared the results to a control group of women who did not have the disease.

Researchers concluded the higher risk of breast cancer in these women is because of rapid breast-tissue development during puberty, which makes the tissue more susceptible to damage caused by the carcinogens in tobacco.

The research was inspired by a study by Irma Russo, a breast cancer researcher in Philadelphia, who found the same results in animals. The agency’s findings on humans were recently published in The Lancet, a British medical journal.

Dr. Marilyn Joseph, Boynton Health Service medical director and assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, said the results of the study are plausible because of the rate of cell division in the breasts during puberty.

“Anytime cells are rapidly dividing, they’re more at risk for diseases. It’s a reasonable find,” Joseph said.

However, Joseph said she doubts this study will change the behaviors of young female smokers on campus. She said she hopes the study will make an impact, adding that females 17-19 years old already know of the risks and often think they are invincible.

“They think they’re their own boss, which they should be,” Joseph said. “They already know of other risks.”

Freshman Jessica Brennan said all smoking-related studies make her question the habit.

“I know smoking is bad for you. I know if I continue it’s not going to be good, but it’s not on my top priority list just to stop smoking tomorrow,” Brennan said.

Brennan began smoking in the middle of June, and said she smoked more when she came to the University for social reasons.

“There’s a lot of people Ö smoking, so you can meet people that way; and a lot of times when you go out, if just goes hand-in-hand,” Brennan said.

“(The study) makes me think about it, but probably I won’t stop,” Kristina Maercklein said, a freshman economics major who has been smoking since she was in seventh grade.

According to a 2001 Boynton Student Health Study, 72.5 percent of students who had used tobacco in the past 30 days reported starting before the age of 18.

Of University female students ages 18-24, 36.9 percent reported using tobacco in the 30 days before the study.

For Joseph, the recent study adds more fuel to the campaign against smoking.

“I do think it’s an important piece of information,” Joseph said.

She said smoking also seems to increase the risk of other cancers in women, such as cervical cancer.


Monica LaBelle covers welcomes comments at [email protected]