Day 92 – Cancers Caused by Smoking and Drinking

My two closest family members, my mother and half-brother, were both victims to cancers that were caused by excessive drinking and smoking. My mother miraculously survived pancreatic cancer in her mid-forties, only to succumb to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) later in life. My half-brother, struggling for many years with chronic pancreatitis (pre-cancerous), finally died from lung cancer in his mid-forties. Lives robbed by hard alcohol and cigarettes.

Pancreatic Cancer: Smoking is one of the most important risk factors for pancreatic cancer. The risk of getting pancreatic cancer is about twice as high among smokers compared to those who have never smoked. About 25% of pancreatic cancers are thought to be caused by cigarette smoking. Heavy alcohol use can also lead to conditions such as chronic pancreatitis, which is known to increase pancreatic cancer risk.

Lung Cancer: Smoking tobacco is by far the leading cause of lung cancer. About 80% of lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking, and many others are caused by exposure to secondhand smoke. Smoking is clearly the strongest risk factor for lung cancer, but it often interacts with other factors. 

Very Well Health: Unlike some carcinogens, such as tobacco smoke, alcohol is thought to promote the growth of an existing tumor rather than initiate the onset of cancer. This includes malignancies such as liver cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer, breast cancer, and head and neck cancers. Around 69% of people with lung cancer were drinkers prior to their diagnosis. Of these, 16% quit alcohol following cancer treatment. Those who didn’t were nine times more likely to describe themselves as being in poor health compared to those who did.

For both my mother and brother, the heavy use of vodka and cigarettes served as a very toxic combination.  Both were brilliant.  Both had accompanying mental health issues that underlay their respective diseases. The were each very independent and reclusive. Alcoholics, in general, tend to withdraw in the later stages of their addiction. The acquisition of and consumption of alcohol takes preeminence above all else. During the final days of my brother’s life, although he used an oxygen tank 24/7, getting the next cigarette was THE MOST important thing in his life.  

Tragic, sad, and infuriating. Many a family member has been incredulous as addicted fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, siblings or cousins choose isolation and death over relationship and life. What can a concerned family member or friend do?

Help Guide is a nonprofit organization that offers simple guidelines for How to Quit Smoking and Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. I guess that’s a good start. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is also a good source for information. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.

Pancreatic Cancer Action Network provides free, in-depth and personalized resources and information on pancreatic cancer. American Lung Association offers a variety of resources and information about lung cancer. Donate in the memory of someone. Nicotine Anonymous is a world-renowned 12-step recovery program that helps nicotine addicts quit smoking and chewing tobacco. Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem. Al-Anon members are people who are worried about someone with a drinking problem. 

Wherever you are in your journey…addict or concerned friend, suffering from pancreatic or lung cancer, or being supportive of someone during some stage of their treatment…you can’t do it alone.