Wed. Dec 1st, 2021

The relationship between ‘tobacco’ and ‘cancer’ that you must know

Tobacco and Cancer

By Dr. Deepak Gupta

The term “Cancer” comes from the Greek word “Karkinos” (for crab) which refers to a generic non-communicable disease (NCD). It is characterized by malignant growth (cancerous or neo-plasms) of abnormal cells in any part of the human body.
Cancer is the second leading cause of deaths worldwide and accounts for 8.7 million deaths per year. A large number is now concentrated among low- and middle-income countries. According to WHO, India accounts for over 6 percent of cancer-related death out of total deaths. By end of the decade cancer mortality in India is projected to increase to over 900,000 deaths. Out of all cancers, tobacco-related cancer (TRC) accounts for a major share.


Since 2000 BC smoking is known in India when cannabis was smoked and is first mentioned in the Atharvaveda (compiled c. 1200 BC – c. 1000 BC). For medical purposes Fumigation (dhupa) and fire offerings (homa) have been practiced for at least 3,000 years. Smoking, or dhumrapana in Hindi  (literally “drinking smoke”), has been practiced for at least 2,000 years. In the 17th  century, tobacco was introduced in India.

Tobacco is not only associated with cancer but also increases the incidence of tuberculosis, homicide, suicide, heart ailments, strokes, bronchitis, delayed healing of wounds, infertility, and peptic ulcer, among other diseases among others. In India
alone, every third adult consumes some form of tobacco.


The most commonly used tobacco product especially by poor is bidis and gutka. It constitutes about 5.8lakh death in 201. As per data, tobacco causes one death every six seconds. As per the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), tobacco accounts for about 30 percent of all cancers in men and women in India. In India, the most common tobacco-related cancer (TRC) is mouth followed by lung.TRC accounts for 18.3 percent of all female deaths and percent of all male deaths due to cancer. Out of many chemicals used in tobacco 69 are proved to be associated with cancer.


Smoking kills over one million people in India annually and is the fourth leading cause of non-communicable diseases (NCD) such as cancer and heart diseases, which account for 53 percent of all deaths in India. Tobacco not only harm the individual but also the family by passive smoking and also national economies through increased healthcare costs and decreased productivity.


The ‘World No Tobacco Day’ is celebrated on 31st May. TRC causes many forms of cancers, leading to early, painful deaths of users in their productive years. It is of utmost importance to make people aware of the ill effects of tobacco and protect the health of the people.


Nowadays trends are changing bidis are replaced by cigarette and in upper classes, cigarettes are being replaced by cigars which contain more potent carcinogens. Nicotine, one of the most addictive drugs, and the key stimulant people are looking for is one of the harshest chemicals in tobacco smoke. Some homeless product is promoted as less harmful as compared to smoking, but they are still linked with cancers, especially oral and are deadly and without any proven benefit to help users quit. E-cigarettes and other alternatives products have been promoted but these contain addictive nicotine, flavorings, and a variety of other chemicals, some known to be toxic or to cause cancer.


Gutka, a kind of smokeless tobacco that is made in India and is widely used in Asia. It is a mixture of tobacco, crushed areca nut (also called betel nut), spices, and other ingredients. It is used like chewing tobacco and is placed in the mouth, usually between the gum and cheek. Gutka contains nicotine and many such harmful cancer-causing chemicals. Using it can lead to nicotine addiction and can cause cancers of the lip, mouth, tongue, throat, and esophagus. Also called betel quid with tobacco.


“Tobacco is universally regarded as one of the major public health hazards and is responsible directly or indirectly for an estimated eight lakh deaths annually in the country. It has also been found that the treatment of tobacco-related diseases and the loss of productivity caused therein cost the country almost Rs. 13,500 crores annually, which more than offsets all the benefits accruing in the form of revenue and employment generated by the tobacco industry:” Supreme Court of India, Murli S. Deora vs Union Of India And Ors on 2 November.


This author, Dr. Deepak Gupta, is Consultant, Division of Radiation Oncology at  Medanta The Medicity, Gurgaon

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