The health consequences of smoking. Cancer

Med Clin North Am. 1992 Mar;76(2):305-31. doi: 10.1016/s0025-7125(16)30355-8.


Smoking has now been identified as a definite cause of cancer at many sites (Table 2). Of all cancers in the United States, 30% could be prevented if cigarette smoking were eliminated. Organs in direct contact with smoke--the oral cavity, esophagus, lung, and bronchus--are at the greatest risk of malignancy among smokers. As many as 90% of these cancers are attributable to smoking. Organs and tissues distant from smoke are also at some increased risk. Among smokers, rates of cancer of the cervix, pancreas, bladder, kidney, stomach, and hematopoietic tissue are increased 50% to 200% over rates in nonsmokers. Risk of cancer at all sites increases with increasing exposure to cigarette smoke. Cigarette smoke contains potent carcinogens that influence carcinogenesis at both early and late stages. These carcinogens can interact with other exposures, such as alcohol, to synergistically increase the risk of cancer. The adverse carcinogenic effects of cigarette smoking, however, can be reduced for all smokers if tobacco use is stopped. The prevalence of smoking among the US population as a whole has declined from 40% in 1965 to 29% in 1987. This progress against the epidemic of tobacco use has already produced a decrease in the occurrence of the most common tumor among men, lung cancer. Unfortunately, the decline in smoking prevalence and cancer incidence has not occurred equally across US populations. Death rates of lung cancer in women continue to rise, and, based upon current smoking patterns, these rates will continue to increase into the next century. The challenge to physicians and public health workers is compelling and immediate: Abstaining from smoking is the single most effective way to reduce an individual's risk of cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinogens / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Smoking / trends
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / analysis
  • United States


  • Carcinogens
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution