Young Women's Breast Cancer Risks Up in Smoke

Breast cancer risks may be elevated in young women with smoking history

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) There are so many diseases and health conditions associated with smoking; the habit is addictive and deadly. Researchers may have added yet another disease to this growing list.

According to a new study, young women in their 20s to 40s with a history of smoking had a higher risk of developing the most common type of breast cancer than women who’d never smoked.

"If you smoke, find help to quit."

This large study was directed by Christopher Li, MD, PhD, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. He and his colleagues analyzed the breast cancer incidence among breast cancer survivors and healthy women with and without a history of smoking.

Estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer is the most common type of breast cancer. The female hormone estrogen drives this type of cancer. Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), which has no known molecular drivers, is less common but tends to be more aggressive.

For this study, Dr. Li’s team reviewed information about 778 patients who had been diagnosed with ER+ breast cancer and 182 patients with TNBC. A total of 938 cancer-free women served as controls in the study.

The participants were women from the Seattle-Puget Sound area between the ages of 22 and 44 years old who had been diagnosed with cancer between 2004 and 2010.

The women were interviewed in person about their lifestyle habits, including physical activity and alcohol consumption, along with their reproductive and breast cancer screening histories. In addition, the researchers gathered detailed information about the participants' smoking history.

These researchers learned that women who had ever smoked had a 30 percent higher risk of developing any type of breast cancer than women who’d never smoked.

Young female smokers had a 40 percent increased risk of developing ER+ breast cancer.

Women with a 10-pack-year (pack a day for 10 years) smoking history had a 60 percent increased risk of developing ER+ breast cancer.

The researchers didn’t find an association between smoking and TNBC.

“While all persons with breast tissue are at risk for developing breast cancer, certain risk factors for this common, life-threatening illness are within any woman's (or man's) power to change,” said Patrick D. Maguire, a radiation oncologist with Coastal Carolina Radiation and Oncology in Wilmington, NC.

“This case control study by Li et al provides more evidence of the link between smoking and the development of breast cancer. The active choice to avoid smoking empowers us by decreasing our risk of many of the top 20 cancers in America including breast cancer,” said Dr. Maguire.

This study was published February 10 in the journal Cancer.

The National Cancer Institute and the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program funded the research. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
February 7, 2014
Last Updated:
February 10, 2014