Medically Reviewed By
Karen Ritter, RN BSN
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Does Smoking Cause Mesothelioma?
Smoking does not cause mesothelioma, according to current science and medical experts. A 1991 study published in Cancer Research asserted that there is no link between the two. The only known source of this rare cancer is asbestos exposure.
Mesothelioma forms in narrow linings around specific cavities and organs. These linings are usually either the pleura or peritoneum. The pleura slices between your lung cavity and chest wall. The peritoneum encompasses your abdominal cavity. The pleura is where pleural mesothelioma forms, and the peritoneum is where peritoneal mesothelioma starts.
Most people assume smoking and mesothelioma are connected due to the relationship between pleural mesothelioma and the lungs. Smoking can affect your lungs and cause numerous lung diseases, such as lung cancer or emphysema.
Pleural mesothelioma forms near the lungs but is not actually a lung disease. This cancer can spread to your lungs and overrun the organ with tumors, leading to its resection.
Asbestosis, Lung Cancer and Smoking
Although smoking and mesothelioma do not share a cause-and-effect relationship, smoking does introduce carcinogens into your body. These carcinogens can cause cellular mutations on the lungs, which can lead to lung cancer.
Asbestosis is another condition linked to smoking. It’s aptly named due to its association with asbestos exposure. Inhaling pointed fibers can lead to these asbestos strands entering the thorax and puncturing your lung’s tissue.
These sharp fibers can cause scarring and inflammation. If asbestos fibers irritate and scar a person’s lung tissue, then smoking will compound the irritation and make scarring more severe.
Asbestosis can lead to lung cancer or even mesothelioma. Asbestosis and lung cancer are commonly associated, as asbestosis can be a symptom and even a diagnostic factor for asbestos-caused lung cancer.
According to the American Thoracic Society, the combination of smoking and asbestos exposure increases the risk of deadly lung cancer by 28-fold.
BAP1 Gene, Smoking and Mesothelioma
There may be a link between smoking and the BAP1 tumor gene, which is expressed in many mesothelioma patients. Scientists have linked BAP1 gene expression and mutation to higher chances of developing mesothelioma. People who get this cancer must be exposed to asbestos fibers.
In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology, 24 mesothelioma patients expressed a BAP1 gene mutation and 18 of those patients were current or past smokers. In theory, if smoking can lead to BAP1 gene mutation, then people who are exposed to asbestos fibers might have an increased chance of developing mesothelioma.
However, the study authors noted that they did not find a firm scientific relationship between smoking and the mutation of the BAP1 gene. This data “did not suggest that this association was because of a causative role of smoking.”
Smoking and mesothelioma share some coincidental similarities. The demographic of those who are more likely to get mesothelioma is also in the demographic of those more likely to have a history of tobacco use.
Some of the mesothelioma facts linked to those most likely to smoke are:
- Age – Older people are most likely to get mesothelioma, and they were also young during the time when smoking rates were highest in the country. Older people are also most likely to be current smokers.
- Occupation – People working in blue-collar trades, such as construction and insulation jobs, have high rates of smoking, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as higher-than-usual rates of on-the-job asbestos exposure and mesothelioma.
- Military service – Veterans have higher rates of smoking than the average American does, according to the CDC. Veterans are also exposed to more asbestos and more prone to developing mesothelioma.
- Gender – Men smoke tobacco more than women do. They also have higher rates of mesothelioma due to increased risk of occupational asbestos exposure.
Does Smoking Make Mesothelioma Worse?
Smoking can make your mesothelioma worse due to its effect on your lungs. If you are a smoker who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, quitting smoking now can significantly improve your quality of life.
The potential benefits of quitting smoking include:
- Living longer due to more effective treatment and a healthier lifestyle
- Fewer side effects, as smoking can cause damage to the lungs and worsen mesothelioma symptoms
Quitting Smoking After Being Diagnosed
People diagnosed with mesothelioma may not feel inspired to quit smoking. Mesothelioma’s often-poor prognosis discourages patients, but they can prolong their life with a healthier lifestyle.
Smoking may not increase your chances of developing mesothelioma, but it can worsen your symptoms and prevent you from receiving curative therapies.
If your body isn’t able to support aggressive treatments due to continued smoking, your prognosis may be shorter. Quitting smoking can make your body more able to endure treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation.
Some ways that quitting smoking can help make your body stronger include:
- Improved circulation and lung function (happening as soon as two weeks after quitting)
- Cilia, which are tiny brush-like hairs, recover and become more effective at sweeping away mucus, dirt and other unwanted particles (as soon as four weeks after quitting)
- Your lungs are free of mucus and other hazards, which prevents infections
People who smoke should quit immediately if they are diagnosed with mesothelioma. Smoking is only going to intensify mesothelioma symptoms and reduce life expectancy. Mesothelioma patients who need help quitting can talk to their doctors for tips and resources. There are also many free resources on the web to help people quit smoking.
Fighting Mesothelioma With a Smoking History
Just because a mesothelioma patient has a history of smoking does not mean they have limited treatment options. It’s also not a reason to give up hope.
A study conducted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital from 1980 to 1997 involved 143 patients who had an extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery. Their median survival time was 21 months.
Interestingly, around 65% (117 out of 183) of the patients reported a history of smoking.
This study is a telling example of how a history of smoking doesn’t always affect a patient’s survival. The typical mesothelioma prognosis depends on the stage of the cancer and age of the patient. It ranges from a few months to a couple of years, at the most. A small percentage of patients live for 21 months like those in this study did.
Improve your quality of life by quitting smoking, which can expand your treatment options. You can get the help of a mesothelioma specialist by using our free Doctor Match program.
Sources & Author
- Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults in the United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/adult_data/cig_smoking/index.htm. Accessed: 06/11/2020.
- Cigarette Smoking, Asbestos Exposure, and Malignant Mesothelioma. Cancer Research. Retrieved from: https://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/51/9/2263.short. Accessed: 06/11/2020.
- Clinical Characteristics of Patients With Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma Harboring Somatic BAP1 Mutations. Journal of Thoracic Oncology. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24128712/. Accessed: 06/11/2020.
- Tobacco Use Among Working Adults — United States, 2014–2016. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/66/wr/mm6642a2.htm. Accessed: 06/11/2020.
- Military Service Members and Veterans. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/groups/military.html. Accessed: 06/11/2020.
- Asbestos exposure, asbestosis, and smoking combined greatly increase lung cancer risk. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130412084227.htm. Accessed: 06/12/2020.
- Health Effects. Smokefree.gov. Retrieved from: https://smokefree.gov/quit-smoking/why-you-should-quit/health-effects. Accessed: 06/12/2020.
- Resection margins, extrapleural nodal status, and cell type determine postoperative long-term survival in trimodality therapy of malignant pleural mesothelioma: Results in 183 patients. ScienceDirect. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022522399704691. Accessed: 06/12/2020.