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Butting Out For Breast Health

Tobacco is a known carcinogenCarcinogen:
A substance that causes cancer or helps cancer to grow. Tobacco and alcohol (ethanol) are examples of carcinogens.
. Smoking causes disease, ill health and can cut your life short. It harms nearly every organ of the body and can put the health of non-smokers of all ages at risk. Smoking also causes several cancers, heart disease, stroke, lung disease and other health conditions.

Quitting smoking significantly reduces those health risks—and offers immediate health benefits. If you’ve tried quitting, you will know that it isn’t easy. In this section, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation hopes to inform you with facts and offer practical suggestions to help you make the decision to quit and then act on that decision.

Smoking And Breast Cancer Risk 

If you needed yet another reason to butt out, here it is: evidence shows that both active smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke, sometimes referred to as passive smoking, increase your risk of developing breast cancer. 

In 2009, the Canadian Expert Panel on Tobacco Smoke and Breast Cancer Risk concluded that active smoking increases the risk of breast cancer. They also concluded that girls and younger women exposed to second-hand smoke were at increased risk of breast cancer, especially when exposed to second-hand smoke during adolescence. These finding have been confirmed by other studies.

Why are girls and young women particularly vulnerable to second-hand smoke? Tobacco smoke may affect breast tissue differently depending on your age and stage of breast development. Because adolescence is a period of rapid development for the breasts, breast tissue may be more susceptible to cancer-causing agents during this time. 

Areas of the body not directly in contact with tobacco can still be affected by it. For example, nicotine and the thousands of other toxins present in cigarettes have been found in the breast fluids of non-lactatingLactation:
Production of milk in the breast.
women who are smokers. 

Consuming alcohol also increases your risk of breast and other cancers. If you smoke and also drink alcohol, your risk is increased further.

Other Reasons Not To Smoke

For women of all ages there are many benefits to not smoking, in addition to reduced breast cancer risk. Smoking is associated with a higher risk of other diseases and chronic conditions, such as heart disease, lung cancer and other cancers. By quitting smoking, reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke, or eliminating your exposure to second-hand smoke you can help to improve your circulation, blood pressure, lung function and reproductive health.

Be A Quitter

By quitting smoking, you reduce your risk of developing breast cancer and help to improve your overall health. Quitting smoking sounds like simple advice—but "simple" doesn't mean "easy." 

If you’d like to quit smoking, there are several options you may wish to consider to help you:

  • Group counselling

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

  • Nicotine replacement therapy (e.g., “The Patch”)

  • Non-nicotine-based prescription drugs

  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction

  • Hypnotherapy

  • Acupuncture

Find what works best for you. Some people try to quit smoking several times before they are successful and able to quit for life. Don’t give up. You may wish to consider speaking to a health care provider or your local pharmacist about safe and effective ways to quit smoking. Quitting smoking is a big step. You don't need to do it alone: there are a variety of supports available to help you. 

Finding Ways To Cope With Stress

Quitting smoking and experiencing the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal can be a stressful experience. Finding ways to cope with stress is a key part of quitting smoking.

Many smokers believe that smoking helps them to cope with stress and may feel reluctant to quit for this reason. This is because nicotine reaches the brain very quickly (within seconds) and can bring on temporary feelings of calmness. But, when the effects of nicotine wear off, it can leave you feeling even more jittery and anxious.

Evidence shows that quitting smoking decreases depression, anxiety, and stress and improves mood and quality of life compared to people who continue to smoke.

Try these tips – or anything that works for you – to help you reduce the stress in your everyday life, and to help you cope during the process of quitting smoking.

  • Identify your sources of stress. Working to reduce your stress begins with identifying the things that cause you stress, no matter how big or small. Knowing what your specific stressors are can help you to come up with an action plan for when you encounter them in your life.

  • Take a break. Finding yourself in a stressful situation can feel overwhelming. Take a break from the situation – even a short one. Go for a walk, find a quiet space to breathe, talk to a friend, or anything else you enjoy.

  • Be active. Evidence shows that being physically active can improve your mood and reduce stress. Even something as simple as a short walk every day can make a big difference. Being active has many other health benefits- including reducing your risk of developing breast cancer.

  • Take care of yourself.  Making the decision to quit smoking – and acting on it – is a great way to take care of yourself. Eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water, and taking time for yourself are other ways to help you feel good.

  • Talk to someone. Talking to a friend or family member about your life and the things that cause you stress can be a good source of stress relief. It can also help to talk to a mental health professional, such as a counselor or psychologist, who can help you find ways to manage your stress.

  • Consider reducing or eliminating your caffeine intake. Caffeine is a stimulant, and while that may sound like what you need when you’re feeling tired and overwhelmed, it can also make you feel more tense, jittery, anxious and stressed. Caffeine is found in drinks like coffee, tea, and soda – and many of these have caffeine-free alternatives. For many smokers, drinking coffee can trigger the desire to smoke, particularly if having a coffee and cigarette is part of your regular routine. Changing the things you normally do while smoking, including cutting out coffee, can help to make it easier to quit.

A Note On E-Cigarettes

You may have heard of or considered using electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) to help you quit smoking. E-cigarettes are made of plastic or stainless steel, and are designed to look, feel and taste like cigarettes, but do not contain tobacco.  Rather, they contain a liquid that is heated and turned into vapour (i.e., a steam or mist) that a person can inhale, just as they would a real cigarette. While not all e-cigarettes contain nicotine, many do and the vapour is used as a way to deliver the nicotine to the body.

Although e-cigarettes are likely to be a less harmful alternative to cigarettes, there is currently very little information available on their safety and effectiveness in helping people to quit smoking. At this time, e-cigarettes containing nicotine or that make a health claim about being able to help you quit smoking are not approved by Health Canada and cannot legally be imported, marketed, or sold in Canada.



Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Women and smoking cessation. Accessed June 17, 2014 

Collishaw, N.E. et al. (2009). Canadian Expert Panel on Tobacco Smoke and Breast Cancer Risk. Toronto, Canada: Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, OTRU Special Report Series. Accessed June 17, 2014

Dossus, L. et al. (2014). Active and passive cigarette smoking and breast cancer risk: Results from the EPIC cohort. International Journal of Cancer, 134 (8), 1871-88.

Health Canada. Smoking and your body. Accessed June 17, 2014

Heart & Stroke Foundation. Smoking, heart disease and stroke. Accessed June 17, 2014 

National Cancer Institute. Harms of smoking and health benefits of quitting. Accessed June 17, 2014.

Public Health Agency of Canada. (2010). Environmental Tobacco Smoke. Chronic Diseases in Canada, Vol 29, Supplement 2.  Accessed June 17, 2014

Quitnow.ca (The Lung Association BC). E-cigarettes. Accessed April 2, 2014.

Smokefree.gov. Stress and smoking. Accessed March 24, 2014.

Taylor, G. et al (2014). Change in mental health after smoking cessation: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ, 348. Accessed March 24, 2014.