The link between drug abuse and cancer

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The month of October is commonly known for breast cancer awareness which is done by most communities around the globe. October is also identified with liver cancer awareness though we do not see or hear much activity on the subject.

This week we look into drug, alcohol and substance abuse and its relation to causing cancer.

Addiction to alcohol drugs and other substances of abuse including tobacco can have far reaching consequences, including cancer, cardiovascular, disease, stroke and mental illness among others.

According to world statistics, addiction accounts for 30 percent of cancer deaths, including eighty percent of all lung cancer deaths, giving an excessive link between drug abuse and cancer.

Prescription opioids, are commonly used to manage pain in cancer patients, however, opioid misuse carries significant risks, including respiratory depression, constipation and inhibited immune response.

Cocaine and heroin are often mixed with cancer causing additives called cutting agents and phenacetin is the most commonly used substance and it is carcinogenic, this white crystalline powder was used formerly as a painkiller in the USA. Findings reveal that it is linked to various cancers of the renal, pelvis and ureter.

Anabolic steroids are used to treat many medical conditions, but are sometimes misused by athletes and bodybuilders to boost performance.

Steroids increase prostate cancer risk in man and cervical and endometrial cancer in women as they disrupt the normal production of hormones in the body. The formation of non-malignant liver tumours, which can rapture and bleed are another long term effect.

Chronic use of illicit drugs increases cancer risk, especially when used with drugs for which there is clear carcinogenic potential such as alcohol and tobacco.

While drinking alcohol does not automatically cause cancer, one in five in alcohol related deaths globally are due to cancer.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women and this makes it important to understand the role alcohol plays in its development.

Risk of alcohol related cancer increase from around one alcoholic drink a day. The more you drink over a lifetime the higher the risk of developing cancer.

Breast cancer is also found in men though rare, cancer of the liver is common to men due to alcohol consumption.

Alcohol helps in the development of breast cancer in that the body breaks down the alcohol into a substance called acetaldehyde which can cause changes in our DNA which can trigger a response in the body which leads to cancerous cells developing.

Alcohol increases levels of the female hormone oestrogen, high levels of it causes cancer cells to multiply out of control.

Next time you lift that glass of alcohol or take any of your illicit drugs think of the above.

Mthandazo Ndlovu is a drug prevention and rehabilitation specialist.For more information contact 00263772399734 or email [email protected] and join the Rechabites in building drug-free healthy and productive communities.