Tobacco and Leukemia
Cigarettes cause acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood.Footnote 1
- Key facts about tobacco use and leukemia
- What is leukemia?
- How does tobacco use increase the risk of leukemia?
- How does quitting reduce the risk of leukemia?
- Health benefits of quitting tobacco use at any age
- Call for free help to quit
Key facts about tobacco use and acute myeloid leukemia
- The risk of acute myeloid leukemia increases with the number of cigarettes smoked and the number of years spent smoking.Footnote 1Footnote 2Footnote 3
- Someone who smokes has up to 50% higher risk of acute myeloid leukemia than someone who has never smoked.Footnote 3
- In 2022, it was estimated there would be 6,700 new cases of leukemia in Canada (excluding Quebec), and 3,100 leukemia deaths.Footnote 4
- In Canada (excluding Quebec), 77% of people diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia are predicted to die within five years, according to 2015-2017 data.Footnote 5
- The survival rate for acute myeloid leukemia is the lowest of any leukemia subtype.Footnote 5
What is leukemia?
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood that occurs when blood cells change and grow uncontrollably.Footnote 6
Smoking is a risk factor for acute myeloid leukemia, a fast-developing leukemia that is most common in adults over 65. It begins in the bone marrow, a spongy tissue inside our bones that produces blood cells.
Symptoms of acute myeloid leukemia may include bruising or bleeding that cannot be easily stopped, fatigue, frequent or persistent infections, swollen lymph nodes or glands, and bone, back or abdominal pain.Footnote 7
How does tobacco use increase the risk of leukemia?
Some of the chemicals in tobacco smoke, such as benzene, are known to cause acute myeloid leukemia.Footnote 1Footnote 8Footnote 9 Benzene from tobacco smoke is absorbed through the lungs while smoking. Benzene has the potential to cause cancer in the cells of the bone marrow, where blood cells are made, causing leukemia.Footnote 10
How does quitting reduce the risk of leukemia?
When someone stops smoking, their risk of acute myeloid leukemia begins to decline.Footnote 14 If someone who smoked has quit for 20 years or more, their risk of acute myeloid leukemia is significantly reduced.Footnote 3
If someone who smokes has acute myeloid leukemia, quitting can still benefit them. Quitting smoking can improve recovery for cancer patients.Footnote 15
Continuing to smoke after a cancer diagnosis can lower chances of survival and increase the risk for other cancers caused by tobacco smoke, such as lung cancer.Footnote 15
Health benefits of quitting tobacco use at any age
Quitting tobacco use reduces the risk of premature death, improves health, and enhances quality of life.Footnote 14 Quitting at any age is beneficial to one's health.Footnote 14 Even people who have smoked or used tobacco heavily for many years benefit from it.Footnote 1Footnote 14 Quitting is the most important thing someone who smokes can do to improve their health.
Read more about the benefits of quitting smoking.
Call for free help to quit
Call the toll-free pan-Canadian quit line at 1-866-366-3667. Quit line counselling, alone or in combination with cessation medications, increases success in quitting.Footnote 14
- Footnote 1
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking. A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 2004.
- Footnote 2
Doll R, Peto R, Wheatley K, Gray R, Sutherland I. Mortality in relation to smoking: 40 years' observations on male British doctors. BMJ. 1994;309(6959):901-911. doi: 10.1136/bmj.309.6959.901.
- Footnote 3
Colamesta V, D'Aguanno S, Breccia M, Bruffa S, Cartoni C, La Torre G. Do the smoking intensity and duration, the years since quitting, the methodological quality and the year of publication of the studies affect the results of the meta-analysis on cigarette smoking and Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) in adults? Critical Reviews in Oncology/Hematology. 2016;99:376-388. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.critrevonc.2016.01.003
- Footnote 4
Brenner DR, Poirier A, Woods RR, Ellison LF, Billette JM, Demers AA, Zhang SX, Yao C, Finley C, Fitzgerald N, Saint-Jacques N. Projected estimates of cancer in Canada in 2022. CMAJ. 2022 May 2;194(17):E601-7.
- Footnote 5
Canadian Cancer Statistics Advisory Committee. Canadian Cancer Statistics 2021. Toronto, ON: Canadian Cancer Society: 2021. Available at: http://cancer.ca/Canadian-Cancer-Statistics-2021-EN
- Footnote 6
American Society of Clinical Oncology. Leukemia - Acute Myeloid - AML: Introduction. Published April 2022. Accessed May 2, 2022. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/leukemia-acute-myeloid-aml/introduction
- Footnote 7
American Society of Clinical Oncology. Leukemia - Acute Myeloid - AML: Symptoms and Signs. Published April 2022. Accessed May 2, 2022. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/leukemia-acute-myeloid-aml/symptoms-and-signs
- Footnote 8
IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. Benzene. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, Vol. 120. International Agency of Research on Cancer, Lyon, France, 2018.
- Footnote 9
Loomis D, Guyton KZ, Grosse Y, El Ghissassi F, Bouvard V, Benbrahim-Tallaa L, Guha N, Vilahur N, Mattock H, Straif K. Carcinogenicity of benzene. The Lancet Oncology. 2017 Dec 1;18(12):1574-5.
- Footnote 10
International Agency for Research on Cancer. IARC Monographs. Chemical agents and related occupations. Volume 100F: A Review of Human Carcinogens. Lyon, France; 2012.
- Footnote 11
Korte J, Hertz-Picciotto I, Schulz M, Ball L, Duell E. The contribution of benzene to smoking-induced leukemia. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2000;108(4):333-339. doi: 10.1289/ehp.00108333.
- Footnote 12
Faure, Sarah, et al. "Evaluation of human biomonitoring data in a health risk based context: An updated analysis of population level data from the Canadian Health Measures Survey." International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health 223.1 (2020): 267-280
- Footnote 13
Government of Canada Publications. Healthy Living. Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality: Guideline Technical Document – Benzene. 2009: 5.4. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/publications/healthy-living/guidelines-canadian-drinking-water-quality-guideline-technical-document-benzene/page-6-guidelines-canadian-drinking-water-quality-guideline-technical-document-benzene.html
- Footnote 14
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Smoking Cessation: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 2020.
- Footnote 15
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health; 2014.
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