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Smoking and drinking doubles risks for esophageal cancer

A study reported on on April 25, 2014 has the headline Smoking, Drinking Combo Raises Odds for Esophageal Cancer. The study was published in the April, 2014 issue of the Journal of Gastroenterology.

British cigarette package displays smoking effects
Photo by Cate Gillon

The main conclusion is that the risk for this throat cancer is doubled if a person is both a smoker and a drinker.

This is another meta-study that combines research from several prior studies. The lead author of this study is Dr. Anoop Prabhu, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Previous studies had documented the increased risk of esophageal cancer from smoking and from drinking. This new data analysis has quantified the increased risk from doing both together.

"Our study suggests that not only do alcohol and tobacco play an important role in the development of esophageal cancer, the combination of their use markedly increases their potency as carcinogens.”

The current rate of this throat cancer is 18,000 new cases per year, with about 15,000 dying from the effects of esophageal cancer per year. Those that do not die from throat cancer often lose their ability to talk and eat.

Many patients endure tracheotomies to open an air passage beneath the throat cancer. Smoking is so addicting that people have been observed smoking cigarettes by holding a cigarette against the tracheotomy tube and inhaling and exhaling through that opening.

E-cigarettes provide a highly concentrated amount of nicotine that is propelled by a hydrocarbon to make it vaporize. E-cigarettes do not have the tar found in cigarettes, but the effect of vaporizing a hydrocarbon propellant and inhaling it has an unknown effect with regard to causing throat cancer.

Dr. Prabhu is recommending that doctors make a special effort to inform patients of the increased danger of smoking and drinking causing esophageal cancers.

“As a result, we as physicians should focus efforts directed at controlling the burden of esophageal cancer on those who consume both of these substances.”

The attached video animation documents the procedure used to perform a tracheotomy. If you are a smoker and a drinker, it is good to be familiar with throat cancer and the tracheotomy procedure. The National Cancer Institute provides a booklet What You Need to Know About Cancer of the Esophagus.

It is critical to realistically awaken to the dangers of smoking on health. Given the addictive powers of nicotine and alcohol, it is a major battle to quit either. Quitting both may require divine intervention, but however it is done, stopping smoking and drinking together is a major step away from esophageal cancer.

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