How exactly does smoking cause cancer?

How exactly does smoking cause cancer?

We’ve all seen those gruesome pictures of the damage smoking does to lungs. Grim right? There are some pretty shocking videos out there too. Just don’t search for them while you’re eating…

Lung cancer is just one of the many diseases smokers risk every time they light up. But how exactly does smoking cause lung cancer? 

What is lung cancer?

Cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in your body. When these mutations start in lung cells, it is called lung cancer. The cells grow and form tumours, destroying healthy lung cells in the process. 

Some symptoms of lung cancer include:

  • Persistent coughing
  • Chest pain that increases when coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coughing up blood
  • Recurring respiratory infections

According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer is the [leading cause of cancer-related deaths](Lung Cancer Basics | American Lung Association). An early diagnosis is the key to receiving the most effective treatment and the best recovery prospects. 

There are two types of lung cancer: 

  1. Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) - the most common type.
  2. Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) - less common but more aggressive and spreads quickly.

Small lung cancer is the type most associated with smoking. It is the most preventable form too. By quitting the nicotine addiction, your lungs can start to heal and the risk of developing cancer is significantly reduced.

Myths about smoking and lung cancer

There are a few myths associated with smoking and lung cancer. Let’s take a look at some common myths and figure out the facts.

Lung cancer is the only cancer you get from smoking

You might think that the only type of cancer smokers are at risk of is lung cancer. It seems logical that cigarettes will negatively affect your lungs. Every time you inhale smoke, a cocktail of toxic chemicals is delivered directly into your lungs. 

So, yes, smokers are at a higher risk of developing lung cancer. But they are also at a higher risk of developing many other types of cancer. 

These include:

  • Mouth and throat cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Larynx cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Blood cancer

The best way to reduce your cancer risk is to ditch the cigarettes. Quitting smoking has immediate and long-lasting benefits to your health. Plus, it significantly reduces your risk of developing cancer. 

Keeping fit and eating healthily prevents lung cancer

So you watch your weight, spend hours at the gym and make healthy food choices. But if you smoke, that isn’t going to reduce the risk of developing lung cancer. Let’s face it, if you are a health nut, then smoking should be off the menu already.


Making sure you take your vitamins every day won’t prevent lung cancer in itself. Smoking is a lifestyle choice that you can change. But it does take effort. Quitting nicotine is a difficult journey. But kicking the habit is the number one best thing you can do to reduce your risk of lung cancer.  

After smoking for years, stopping won’t reduce the risk

Just because you’ve smoked for years, it doesn’t mean your lungs won’t benefit from stopping. Smoking is a huge risk factor for developing lung cancer and stopping at any point will benefit you. Even after a lung cancer diagnosis, quitting smoking will help a person cope with the treatments and potentially live longer too. 

You can’t get lung cancer if you are young

The majority of lung cancer cases are diagnosed in adults over the age of 60. Although lung cancer is uncommon for younger age groups, it still occurs. Lung cancer does affect different age groups. Around half of all lung cancer cases are diagnosed between the ages of 55 and 74. In fact, the incidence of lung cancer in young adults is on the increase. 

Only smokers get lung cancer

It is possible to get lung cancer if you don’t smoke. There are a number of other risk factors including radon, asbestos and second-hand smoke. In the US, 10-20% of lung cancer cases occur in those who have never smoked, or smoked less than 100 cigarettes over a lifetime. But remember - cigarette smoke is the leading cause of lung cancer - stopping smoking reduces your risk. 

Passive smoking doesn't cause lung cancer

The link between lung cancer and passive smoking is not clear cut. Some studies appear to show a strong correlation between passive smoking and lung cancer, whilst others don’t. But the risks are similar whether you are a passive or active smoker. The best way is to avoid the risk completely by quitting smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke.  

How does smoking cause cancer?

Smoking causes around 90% of all lung cancer cases. Other cases can be caused by exposure to radon, hazardous chemicals and particle pollution. However, it can also be genetic. So if it runs in the family, it may increase the chances of developing it. 

Both the number of cigarettes you smoke a day and how long you have smoked increase the risk. So cutting down is a great first step towards cutting it out completely. Cigarettes and tobacco contain a cocktail of hazardous chemicals. At least 70 of these are carcinogens. That means they are known to cause lung cancer and other types of cancer. 

Some of these chemicals include:

  • Formaldehyde
  • Arsenic
  • Benzene
  • Acetaldehyde

So we know what the harmful chemicals are. But how do they cause cancer?

Carcinogens damage cell DNA

Smoking releases these hazardous chemicals into the lungs. From the lungs, they spread throughout the body. The chemicals directly damage the DNA of cells. Repeated damage over time to these cells can trigger the abnormal growth of cells. This abnormal growth causes cells to multiply and divide rapidly or prevents them dying. This abnormal growth is called cancer.

Carcinogens prevent cell repair

The DNA of cells is designed to repair any damage. Unfortunately, after toxic chemicals have impacted the DNA, the cells are unable to perform optimally. This means the body is unable to repair the cells and cancer can occur as a result. 

Final thoughts

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of lung cancer. There are also no safe levels of smoking. Ultimately, smoking is a lifestyle choice. So the best thing you can do is quit smoking. Once you’ve decided to kick the habit, congratulate yourself! Making that decision is often the hardest step on your quit journey.


There’s no escaping the fact that it’s a tough road. Lots of people have successfully used our Ripple+ aromatherapy diffusers to support their quit journey. Whether you are taking an initial step to cut down or looking for a nicotine-free alternative, there’s definitely a ripple+ to suit you.