Medical corner: Tobacco effects – in case you need a reminder

  • Published
  • By Capt. (Dr.) Daniel Lapidus
  • 71st Medical Operations Squadron
I know a doctor that always asks his patients who smoke, "how is your cancer medication treating you?" 

He claims to get a profound response nearly every time. In my experience, I find that people know the most significant risk of tobacco usage - cancer -- and get defensive when a health care professional addresses this issue. It seems that people either think they are impervious or don't care enough about themselves or their loved ones to really evaluate what developing cancer could do to them, or their families. 

Let's start with some numbers. Tobacco use is associated with 30 percent of cancer deaths in the United States annually. Twenty-six percent of people currently smoke and approximately 3 percent are smokeless tobacco users. 

Smokeless tobacco leads to a 50-percent increase in prevalence of oral cancers. At Vance, more than 15 percent of active duty admits to tobacco use, though 25 percent is probably more accurate. 

Carcinogens, things that cause cancer, don't care how old you are. They care little about how much you use since even a minor tobacco habit in a susceptible person can cause lung and oral cancers in a very short period of time. 

For most though, tobacco use is like Russian roulette. The longer you partake the more likely you'll have a bad outcome. 

For those who aren't familiar, let us revisit what cancers associated with tobacco use can do. 

If caught early and treated, one can expect dry mouth due to destruction of salivary glands from radiation therapy - and you thought occasional cotton mouth was bad. You can expect alteration in taste and smell, chronic jaw or tooth pain, tooth decay, skin changes, loss of hair, nausea and a myriad of other side effects, often irreversible, just associated with treatment. 

As far as the cancer itself, loss of your tongue, lips, jaws, palate and more are common when surgery is required to remove cancerous lesions. 

Just because you don't develop cancer doesn't mean you're free from negative effects of tobacco. Smoke and smokeless tobacco users are at high risk for tooth decay, tooth loss, tooth and mouth sensitivity, gum disease, bad breath, staining, tartar build up and hairy tongue -- really gross because it looks like your tongue has brown or yellow hair. 

Some of these symptoms are reversible, others are not. Smokers are also at an elevated risk of complications during surgery and in some cases are no longer candidates for procedures that can be life saving or quality-of-life improving. 

The use of tobacco is closely linked with cancers of the lungs, mouth, esophagus, voice box, tongue, cervix, kidneys and bladder. 

Aside from cancer, tobacco use is associated with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorders, heart disease, emphysema and hypertension, just to list a few.
In people who neither smoke nor drink, cancer of the mouth and throat are nearly non-existent. It may not happen to you, but is the enjoyment that tobacco brings worth the very real and devastating side effects that may follow for you and your family? 

If you have any desire to quit tobacco please contact the Health and Wellness Center, 213-7968; Dental Clinic, Family Medicine, Flight Medicine, use the main Clinic number, 213-7416; or Mental Health, 213-7419 -- we would all be very happy to help.