Previous Breast Cancer and Secondhand Smoke

Li Liu, MD
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

I am a breast cancer survivor. I never smoked. But my husband smokes and often does it at home. Being a second hand smoker, am I at higher risk of dying from this?  

Li Liu, MD, OncoLink editorial assistant, responds:

Dear M:  
Thank you for your interest and question.

Women who already have had one breast cancer are at higher than average risk of developing a second, new breast cancer. This is different from a recurrence of the first cancer. In addition, some studies have demonstrated that positive associations between environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) exposure and breast cancer incidence or death (Prev Med 1984 Nov; 13(6): 680-90; Am J Epidemiol 1991 Jan 15; 133(2): 208-10). If a woman has a breast cancer and is exposed to ETS, as in your situation, the probability of developing a second, new breast cancer could be even higher, although this has not been published to my knowledge.

Passive exposure to environmental tobacco smoking (ETS) is an established risk factor for adult lung cancer, acute respiratory disorders (particularly in children), reduced pulmonary function, increased risk of lower respiratory infections (e.g., pneumonia and bronchitis), and, probably, ischemic heart disease (Am J Med 1992 Jul 15; 93(1A): 38S-42S). If you have had radiation treatment for your breast cancer, the probability of developing above problems will be higher than someone who never had radiation treatment.

You should discuss above issues with you husband, and perhaps ask him to see his doctor and/or participate in smoking cessation programs.


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