Cancer and Addiction

The use of substances such as alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs can lead to many health problems including cancer. On the other hand, those who have cancer and use prescription opioids for pain management run the risk of developing a drug addiction.

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Can Drug Addiction Lead to Cancer?

Substance abuse is connected to many health issues such as lung or heart disease, mental illness, lowered immune systems, and cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, substance abuse and addiction make up about 30% of all cancer deaths. Tobacco, for example, is linked to 80% of all lung cancer deaths. There is also strong evidence showing that alcohol consumption can lead to various types of cancer, with most being a form of oral, liver, and colon cancer. In addition, illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroin often get mixed with cancer-causing cutting agents. Addiction to illicit drugs increases cancer risk and even more when mixed with other carcinogenic substances such as tobacco and alcohol. The use of drugs, prescribed or not, can increase the risk of developing different types of cancer.

Tobacco and Cancer

Tobacco is the #1 cause of cancer and of death from cancer; There is no safe level of tobacco use. It is most commonly known for causing lung cancer and makes up 80% of lung cancer deaths. Tobacco consumed in any form is harmful to the body; this includes cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes, and chewing tobacco.

Cigar smoke is known to have more cancer-causing tar and chemicals than cigarettes and is just as likely to cause cancer, even if the smoke is not inhaled. All cigar and cigarette smokers expose their lips, mouth, throat, and larynx (voice box) to chemicals that are swallowed in the saliva, exposing the esophagus to carcinogens. Light cigarettes that are marketed as low-tar or less dangerous are no safer than smoking regular or full-flavor cigarettes. In addition to lung, mouth and throat cancer, tobacco can also lead to cancer of the bladder, kidney, liver, stomach, pancreas, colon and rectum, cervix, and even leukemia. Chewing tobacco, also known as snuff, is a form of smokeless tobacco and can cause oral, esophageal and pancreatic cancer as well.

Tobacco also increases the risk of developing cancer in those exposed to secondhand smoke. According to the Cleveland Clinic, smoke contains more than 250 toxic compounds and 50 known cancer-causing agents, or carcinogens. The chemicals in tobacco smoke, even if not inhaled directly, can damage DNA and lead to cancer. Other risks of second-hand smoke include lung disease, heart disease, eye and nasal irritation, and sinus and respiratory infections. People who smoke are encouraged to quit as soon as possible and those who have been diagnosed with cancer can reduce the risk of death by quitting as soon as possible.

Alcohol and Cancer

Studies have shown a strong link between drinking alcohol and several types of cancer. The National Toxicology Program of the US Department of Health and Human Services has listed the consumption of alcoholic beverages as a human carcinogen and estimated that it results in 3.5% of cancer deaths in the country.

Moderate to heavy alcohol consumption can lead to different types of head and neck cancer as well as esophageal cancer. Drinking has also been linked to breast cancer and colorectal cancer and twice as likely to result in liver cancer. Further research is being done on the association between alcohol and cancer, some evidence is showing that alcohol can increase the risk of melanoma, prostate, and pancreatic cancers.

There is a common misconception that red wine can help prevent cancer, but research has found no evidence to support this. All different types of alcoholic beverages increase the risk of cancer.

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Steroids and Cancer

Anabolic steroids are substances with testosterone-like effects that are often used to increase muscle mass or improve physical performance. Steroids can be used to treat many medical conditions, but are often misused by athletes and body builders. The use of steroids increase the risk of prostate cancer in men and endometrial cancer in women.

Injection Drug Use and Cancer

Use and misuse of opioids increase the risk of many health problems but there is currently no strong evidence to show that opioids cause cancer. The methods by which people use opioids through intravenous injection can lead to contracting hepatitis, which can lead to chronic infections that may result in liver cancer.

Other Illicit Drugs and Cancer

Illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroin are often mixed, or “cut”, with toxic cancer-causing chemicals in order to create more of the drug. A commonly used cutting agent is phenacetin, which has been linked to cases of renal, pelvis, and ureter cancer.

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Cancer and Opioid Addiction

Cancer is a disease that weakens the body and a person’s physical well-being but impacts mental health in a powerful way. The most common symptom in cancer patients is pain caused by the cancer itself or treatment used to try and eliminate the cancer cells from the body. Severe and chronic pain in cancer patients can be treated with pain management and prescription medications that usually includes strong opioids. Prescription opioids often cause dependence even when used as directed, and misuse of them is likely to lead to addiction.

The most commonly prescribed opioids for pain treatment in cancer patients are tramadol, hydrocodone, morphine, methadone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, tapentadol, oxymorphone, and fentanyl patches. Any person that takes opioids is at risk of developing addiction, which is why they should only be prescribed in absolutely necessary situations. Opioid tolerance occurs quickly over time, and there is a risk of addiction in cancer patients.

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Not all cancer patients who take prescription opioids will become addicted, but it is important to watch out for signs that may indicate substance abuse. To prevent drug addiction in cancer patients it is important to only take drugs as prescribed and including other therapeutic approaches for pain management.

Get Help with Addiction and Cancer Today

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and cancer, the time to get help is now. Many rehab programs have experience treating patients with cancer. Contact a dedicated treatment provider today to find out more about your options.

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