Substance Abuse and Its Connection to Cancer

By Lil Cronin, LICSW
First Published by The Milton Times, March 2019

The link between excessive alcohol consumption and cancer is well-documented. Many study findings have concluded that drinking alcohol in excess potentially escalates the risk of both heart disease and numerous cancers. They suggest that the main factor influencing risk is the amount of alcohol consumed, rather than the type. Consistent alcohol consumption increases the risk of colon, liver, esophageal, and head and neck cancers, according to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI). Even a few drinks a week for women has been linked to an increase risk of breast cancer, partially because it raises estrogen levels in breast tissue.

There is strong scientific consensus about the link between cigarette smoking and the development og many cancers, but what about e-cigarettes, which are vaporized nicotine delivery devices frequently used by youth? According to DFCI, the lack of tar in e-cigs (vaping) doesn’t mean they are entirely free of cancer-causing substances. Studies have found a variety of cancer-causing chemicals—including formaldehyde, toluene, acetaldehyde, and acrolein—as well as heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, nickel, and nitrosamines in e-cigarette aerosols or vapor. While the levels of these substances are far lower than in cigarette smoke, the long-term effect of exposure to them is unclear.

Marijuana, if used early and often in life, may be associated with the development of certain cancers as well. In particular, the smoke may contain a testicular carcinogen, and males are at higher risk if they were heavy users during adolescence. (NIDA for Teens) Also, Anabolic Steroids- used most often by athletes interested in increasing muscle mass, can increase the likelihood of developing prostate and liver tumors. (NIDA)

Overall, the clearest patterns of susceptibility between using substances and developing cancer have to do with excessive alcohol consumption-especially combined with tobacco use. If developing cancer is a concern to you, it is well-advised to adhere to the alcohol consumption guidelines put forward by the American Cancer Society which recommends that people who drink alcohol limit their intake to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink a day for women.