Diseases you didn't know smoking caused

Melissa Pearce
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Image: Getty
Getty Images
Smoking is the single largest cause of avoidable death and disease in Australia, killing 15,000 of us every year and in the long term, about half of persistent smokers, with 80 percent of all lung cancers caused by smoking.

As the most deadly cancer to Australian men and women, you'd think the well-known risk of lung cancer would be enough to make people think twice about lighting up. But cigarettes are as highly addictive as ever and sometimes the focus on lung cancer has diminished attention on some equally-frightening health consequences of continuing the terrible habit. Here are some more reasons to galvanise you to give up for good in 2012 — especially if you are a woman.

Cardiovascular disease
The number one killer of Australian women is cardiovascular disease, which includes coronary heart disease, heart disease and stroke. "Approximately two million Australian women have cardiovascular disease, resulting in premature death and a decreased quality of life," says Cathy Caitlin, Executive Director of the Australian Council on Smoking & Health.

"The single biggest risk factor for cardiovascular disease is smoking." That risk increases greatly in women who use oral contraceptives.

Unfair battle of sexes
Smoking is bad for everyone, but when you look at all the evidence, it affects women (through primary smoking and or secondary/passive smoking) so much more dramatically and in so many other ways than men — with female smokers twice as likely as non-smokers to be infertile.

While historically, more women died of breast cancer than lung cancer, that has now turned around and lung cancer is the most deadly cancer for women, who have poorer survival rates than men. Smoking can also cause complications in breast augmentation.

Bone health risks
A key concern is that smoking, for both men and women is that it increases the risk of developing osteoporosis. But the habit has particular ramifications for women, who have a higher prevalence of osteoporosis than men. "Female smokers have an increased risk of hip fracture than non-smokers," says Caitlin.

"At age 60 the risk of a hip fracture is 17percent greater for a smoker than a non-smoker (for both sexes); that risk jumps to 71percent greater by age 80."

Macular Degeneration
Smoking is the most important modifiable risk factor for the development of Macular Degeneration (MD) — the most common cause of blindness in Australia. Smokers will, on average, develop MD five to 10 years earlier than non-smokers, and smokers are four times more likely to develop the late stage of MD (impacting vision) compared to non-smokers.

"Stopping smoking is definitely worthwhile. The risk of MD in people who give up smoking will progressively lessen over time," says Rob Cummins, Research & Policy Manager of the Macular Degeneration Foundation .

Twenty years after stopping smoking, the risk of MD is the same as someone who had never smoked. Smoking has many other effects on the eyes including increasing the risk of developing cataracts and lowering the age that cataracts develop, as well as exacerbating thyroid eye disease and inflammatory conditions in the eye.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
An estimated 90 percent of all deaths by COPD are caused by smoking. COPD is the co-occurrence of chronic bronchitis and emphysema which causes the airways to become narrowed.

This leads to a limitation of the flow of air to and from the lungs, causing dyspnea or shortness of breath. This limitation is poorly reversible and usually gets progressively worse over time with some patients requiring oxygen therapy or lung transplantation.

Peripheral vascular disease (PVD)
This painful condition occurs due to lack of proper blood circulation to the legs, feet, arms, and hands, and can lead to amputation of the affected limb.

The tooth of the matter
"Smoking is a factor in the development of oral cancer and mouth conditions leukoplakia (small thickened white patches), erythroplakia (small red velvety patches) and keratosis (thickening of the keratin in the tissues)," says Dr Karin Alexander, Vice President of the Australian Dental Association Inc.

Each day at least three Australians are diagnosed with oral cancer and unfortunately the survival rate remains low because mouth cancers are often detected when they are quite advanced. Continues Alexander: "Smoking can increase your risk of oral and lip cancers and more than 80percent of oral cancers in Australia occur in people who smoke."

Beyond the 'c' word, smoking contributes to greater levels of tooth loss; acute ulcerative gingivitis; xerostomia (dry mouth) and in turn bad breath; abrasion and erosion; delayed wound healing; and yellow through black staining of the teeth.

Skin ageing
The effects of smoking on skin and appearance have been extensively studied, with more wrinkles, altered complexion colour and the appearance of fine red lines causing smokers to appear to be up to five years older than non-smokers.

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