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Medical English / By Tom Secrest

Smoke your way to breast cancer

What makes a woman a woman? If you said breasts you’re partially correct, but if you said a second X chromosome you would be spot on. Whether it is the second X that makes women more likely to get breast cancer is beyond this scope of this little article. What is not beyond the scope is a new study that has driven another nail into the cigarette coffin.

More than likely you are not actually the target audience for this article. However, the target audience is not likely to be reading this, so it falls to you to become the messenger. While tobacco companies don’t view Europe or the U.S. as their most profitable markets, they haven’t entirely abandoned them either. These companies view you, the reader, pretty much as a lost cause. Either you already smoke and are unlikely to switch brands, or you don’t smoke and are not likely to start. Either way, they’re not particularly interested in you. On the other hand, a teenager is a different story. A teenager represents a desirable target, which, if acquired, represents perhaps 60, or more, years of sales. Therefore, my hope is that when you read this you will carry the message to the people I can’t reach; to your daughter or niece, or to your friends or colleagues, who can then pass it on to their daughters and nieces. This article may not be THE message that makes the difference, but it might be part of an overall message that stops a young woman (girl) from becoming a smoker.

Women, especially western women are breast centric. This is in no small part because men are also breast centric and the fashion and advertising world has been well aware of this for a long, long time. Whether breasts should define a woman is irrelevant; the fact is, they do. Few things scare a woman more than the idea of breast cancer. While treatments today are less disfiguring that those of the past, the trauma is no less real. Breast cancer strikes at both a woman’s body and her psychological identity. In many ways it would be similar to a man dealing with testicular cancer, although, in my opinion, society has made it more difficult for a woman. If you disagree I only ask that you watch a little TV tonight or flip through a magazine and count how many times you encounter suggestively exposed testicles. On the other hand, if you were counting suggestively exposed breasts, I think you would get tired of counting pretty fast.

Now to the point; in a recent study, presented by lead author Dr. Dejana Braithwaite, at the 9th Annual American Association for Cancer Research international conference, she describes that current and former smokers had an alarming 39% higher rate of dying from breast cancer than those that had never smoked. The prospective study was large and involved 2265 women with a follow-up period of 9 years. In the past the link between smoking and dying of breast cancer was not well established and the studies that suggested a link where not technically strong. However, the size and scope of this study greatly increases its statistical predictive power. What that means is, you can’t ignore this study and hope it goes away.

What is important to note is NEVER SMOKING is key. The study included both current and former smokers. What was found was that former smokers were still at risk.

As important as what the study says, is what it leaves unanswered. The relationship between smoking and an increased risk of breast cancer is controversial. What is known is the many of the chemicals found in tobacco smoke can be found in breast milk; this means that known carcinogens are, at the very least, interacting with a woman’s breast tissue, a tissue which, by its very nature, tends to be more susceptible to cancer than many other body tissues. Additionally, there have been studies in animal models (rodents) that have suggested a strong link between chemicals in tobacco smoke and breast cancer.

I’m not one given to lecturing, but before you give in to peer pressure, social pressure, or any of the myriad of other factors that persuasively encourage you to take that first puff – stop take a deep, smoke-free breath and think long and hard about your future. Then look down at those delicate symbols of femininity and imagine a cancer growing inside one of them. Now ask yourself – do you really, really want to become a smoker?

Live long and well.


  • nail – hřebík
  • coffin – rakev
  • target audience – cílová skupina
  • entirely – zcela, úplně
  • abandoned – opuštěný
  • desirable – vhodný, žádoucí
  • disfiguring – znetvořující, hyzdící
  • testicular cancer – rakovina varlat
  • encounter – setkání (náhodné), narazit na
  • predictive power – prediktivní síla
  • unanswered – nezodpovězený
  • susceptible – vnímavý, citlivý
  • tissue – tkáň
  • rodent – hlodavec
  • myriad – nesčetný
  • persuasively – přesvědčivě

 About Tom Secrest / Tom Secrest online 



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