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Women smokers have double risk of Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Findings back moves for plain cigarette packs, says cancer charity

Caroline White

Monday, 13 August 2012

Women who smoke are at increased risk of developing cancers of the blood, immune system, and bone marrow, finds research published online in the British Journal of Cancer.

The findings emphasise the need for the government to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes, says Cancer Research UK, which owns the BJC.

The risks of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and some bone marrow cancers doubled in women who smoked around 20 cigarettes a day. The risks of other types of blood cancer were also higher.

The research involved tracking the health of 1.3 million middle-aged UK women, who were part of the Million Women study, for an average of 10 years.

During this time, 9000 women developed leukaemia, or cancers of the immune system or bone marrow (7047 lymphoid and 2072 myeloid cancers). Six in every 1000 women who never smoked developed one of these cancers, but the equivalent figures was almost eight in every 1000 for smokers.

Among predominantly moderate alcohol drinkers, higher intake was associated with a lower risk of lymphoid cancers, in particular, diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, follicular lymphoma and plasma cell neoplasms, for which risk was reduced by 15 per cent.

The results add to existing evidence on the impact smoking has on Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and shed new light on the link with other types of lymphoma, leukaemia and cancers of the bone marrow, say the authors.

Professor Valerie Beral, one of the study authors and director of the Cancer Research UK Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University, said: “These results highlight yet again how important smoking is as a cause of cancer. Smoking raises the risk of many types of cancer, not just lung cancer, and also the risk of heart attack and stroke, which many people may not be aware of.”

A recent survey by Cancer Research UK of the UK public showed while most people know that smoking causes cancers of the lung, mouth and throat, few are aware that tobacco is also linked to cancers of the liver, pancreas, bowel, kidney, cervix, and bladder.

The findings come as the government closes its consultation on plain packaging for cigarettes. It extended the deadline by a month, following an unprecedented number of responses.

Under the proposals, current packaging would be replaced with packs of standard size, shape and colouring, all designed to make cigarettes less appealing to children and give health warnings more impact.

Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, commented:

“Reducing the appeal of cigarettes is essential to prevent young people from starting to smoke and so plain packaging of tobacco is the vital next step we need to make.

Replacing the slickly designed, brightly coloured cigarette packaging with packs of standard size, shape and colour will give millions of children one less reason to start smoking.”

She added: “We urge the government to respond as quickly as possible to stop another generation from becoming addicted to a product that will kill half of all long-term smokers.”

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