Can Drug Addiction Lead To Cancer?
Substance abuse is connected to many health issues, such as lung or heart disease, mental health conditions, lowered immune systems, and cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, substance abuse and addiction make up about 30% of all cancer deaths. Tobacco, for example, is linked to 80% of all lung cancer deaths. There is also strong evidence showing that alcohol consumption can lead to various types of cancer, with most being a form of oral, liver, and colon cancer. In addition, illicit drugs such as Cocaine and Heroin often get mixed with cancer-causing cutting agents. Addiction to illicit drugs increases cancer risk; when carcinogenic substances such as tobacco and alcohol are mixed together, risk of cancer only increases even further.
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Tobacco And Cancer
Tobacco is the #1 cause of cancer and of death from cancer; there is no safe level of tobacco use. It is most commonly known for causing lung cancer and makes up 80% of lung cancer deaths. Tobacco consumed in any form is harmful to the body; this includes cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes, and chewing tobacco.
Cigar smoke is known to have more cancer-causing tar and chemicals than cigarettes and is just as likely to cause cancer, even if the smoke is not inhaled. All cigar and cigarette smokers expose their lips, mouth, throat, and larynx (voice box) to chemicals that are swallowed in the saliva. Light cigarettes that are marketed as low-tar or less dangerous are no safer than regular or full-flavor cigarettes. In addition to lung, mouth, and throat cancer, tobacco can also lead to cancer of the bladder, kidney, liver, stomach, pancreas, colon and rectum, and cervix, and can even lead to leukemia. Chewing tobacco, also known as snuff, is a form of smokeless tobacco that can cause oral, esophageal, and pancreatic cancer.
The risk of developing cancer is also increased in those exposed to secondhand smoke. According to the Cleveland Clinic, smoke contains more than 250 toxic compounds and 50 known cancer-causing agents. The chemicals in tobacco smoke, even if not inhaled directly, can damage DNA and lead to cancer. Other risks of secondhand smoke include lung disease, heart disease, eye and nasal irritation, and sinus and respiratory infections. People who smoke are encouraged to quit as soon as possible, and those who have been diagnosed with cancer can reduce the risk of death by quitting as soon as possible.
Alcohol And Cancer
Studies have shown a strong link between drinking alcohol and developing several types of cancer. The National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services has listed the consumption of alcoholic beverages as a human carcinogen and estimated that it results in 3.5% of cancer deaths in the country.
Moderate to heavy alcohol consumption can lead to different types of head and neck cancer as well as esophageal cancer. Drinking has also been linked to breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and liver cancer. Further research is being done on the association between alcohol and cancer; some evidence is showing that alcohol can increase the risks of melanoma, prostate, and pancreatic cancers.
There is a common misconception that red wine can help prevent cancer, but research has found no evidence to support this. Consumption of all different types of alcoholic beverages increases the risk of cancer.
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Steroids And Cancer
Anabolic Steroids are substances with testosterone-like effects that are often used to increase muscle mass or improve physical performance. Steroids can be used to treat many medical conditions but are often misused by athletes and body builders. The use of steroids increases the risk of prostate cancer in men and endometrial cancer in women.
Injection Drug Use And Cancer
Use and misuse of Opioids increase the risk of many health problems, but there is currently no strong evidence to show that Opioids cause cancer. Using Opioids through intravenous injection can lead to contracting hepatitis, however, which can lead to chronic infections that may result in liver cancer.
Other Illicit Drugs And Cancer
Illicit drugs, such as Cocaine and Heroin, are often mixed, or “cut,” with toxic, cancer-causing chemicals in order to create more of the drug. A commonly used cutting agent is Phenacetin, which has been linked to cases of renal cell, pelvic, and ureteral cancer.
Cancer And Opioid Addiction
Cancer is a disease that weakens the body and takes a toll on mental health as well. The most common symptom in cancer patients is pain, caused by either the cancer itself or by the treatments used to try and eliminate the cancer cells from the body. Severe and chronic pain in cancer patients can be treated with pain management and prescription medications that usually include strong Opioids. Prescription Opioids often cause dependence even when used as directed, and misuse of them is likely to lead to addiction.
The most commonly prescribed Opioids for pain treatment in cancer patients are Tramadol, Hydrocodone, Morphine, Methadone, Hydromorphone, Oxycodone, Tapentadol, Oxymorphone, and Fentanyl. Any person that takes Opioids is at risk of developing an addiction, which is why the drugs should only be prescribed when they’re absolutely necessary. Opioid tolerance occurs quickly, and there is a risk of addiction in cancer patients.
Not all cancer patients who take prescription Opioids will become addicted, but it is important to watch out for signs that may indicate substance abuse. Preventing drug addiction in cancer patients involves ensuring drugs are taken only as prescribed and including other therapeutic approaches for pain management.
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Get Help With Addiction And Cancer Today
If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and cancer, the time to get help is now. Many rehab programs have experience treating patients with cancer. Contact a treatment provider today to find out more about your treatment options.
Ginni Correa is a Latinx writer and activist living in Orlando,FL. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and double majored in Psychology and Spanish with a minor in Latin American Studies. After graduation, Ginni worked as an educator in public schools and an art therapist in a behavioral health hospital where she found a passion working with at-risk populations and advocating for social justice and equality. She is also experienced in translating and interpreting with an emphasis in language justice and creating multilingual spaces. Ginni’s mission is to build awareness and promote resources that can help people transform their lives. She believes in the importance of ending stigma surrounding mental health and substance abuse while creating more accessible treatment in communities. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, crafting, and attending music festivals.
- More from Ginni Correa
- Carter, Devon. (2018). Opioids for Cancer Pain Relief: Myths and Facts. Retrieved on January 02, 2020, from https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/cancerwise/opioids-for-cancer-pain-relief--myths-and-facts.h00-159222567.html
- National Cancer Institution. (2015). Cancer Causes and Prevention. Retrieved on January 02, 2020, from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/
- Sanders, Justin. (2018). Drug Abuse and Cancer: What You Should Know. Retrieved on January 02, 2020, from https://blog.dana-farber.org/insight/2018/04/illegal-drug-use-cancer-know/
Certified Addiction Professional
Theresa Parisi received her bachelor’s degree in Addiction Science and Psychology from Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minnesota in 2010. She is currently working towards her master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida. She is a Certified Addiction Professional (CAP), Certified Behavioral Health Case Manager (CBHCM), and International Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ICADC) by the Florida Certification Board. Theresa is passionate about recovery having gone through addiction herself.
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All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.