Tobacco and Cancer

Every 4th of February, the world comes together to mark the World Cancer Day by raising awareness of cancer and encouraging its prevention, detection and treatment.

Globally, tobacco is responsible for 80-90% of cancer-related deaths and accounts for at least 50% of the worldwide lung cancer burden. People who consume tobacco and those frequently exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke (passive smoking) have an increased risk of cancer. This is because tobacco in itself has thousands of chemicals and more than 70 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer.

The list could be endless but some of the cancers caused by tobacco use and passive smoking include cancers of the lungs, larynx (Voicebox), mouth, oesophagus, throat, bladder, cervix, colon and rectum, stomach, liver, pancreas, kidney, as well as acute myeloid leukaemia.

Studies show that people who use smokeless tobacco products have increased risk of cancers of the mouth, pancreas, stomach and oesophagus. Similarly, smokers have a high likelihood of getting lung cancer. This is because of the radioactive materials found in tobacco leaves used to make cigarettes and cigars. These materials are emitted when tobacco is burned and eventually deposited into the smoker’s lungs.

Currently, the cancer burden in the country is growing, with about 47,000 new cases and 33,000 deaths annually. The global adult tobacco survey indicated that over 2.5million adults in Kenya use tobacco and over 800,000 were exposed to second-hand smoke, which further complicates the efforts being made to combat the rising cases of cancer in the country.

Tobacco control needs to be prioritized as the key prevention strategy for cancer among other non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the country. By effectively implementing the Tobacco Control Act and Tobacco Control Regulations, Kenya is likely to reduce tobacco-related cancer deaths significantly.