Despite overwhelming information about the dangers of smoking, tobacco use continues to be the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. In fact, the death rate among people who smoke is currently three times higher than that of nonsmokers. While many people are aware of smoking’s effect on the lungs and respiratory system, smoking can also have a dangerous effect on the urologic system. This understanding of how smoking can cause severe conditions in all aspects of the body, including the kidneys, bladder, and intestines, may be the wakeup call some need to finally quit smoking for good.
Smoking: A Major Health Hazard
The dangers of smoking are written all around us. There are national advertising campaigns, school curriculums, public signs and commercials that all tell us the same thing: Smoking kills. It is even required by law that the message be printed on the side of every cigarette and tobacco product. However, despite the warnings, 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes, which makes up approximately 19 percent of the adult population. As a result, a person dies every six seconds from a tobacco-linked condition, and over 20 percent of all-American deaths have cigarettes to blame. In fact, the number of people who have died as a direct result of cigarettes is 10 times greater than the number of people who died fighting in American wars.
Common Urologic Conditions Caused by Smoking
Smoking causes harm to nearly every part of the body, leading to a number of conditions such as heart disease, stroke, COPD, cataracts, and even bone fractures. Not only does tobacco dramatically increase one’s risk for developing issues in the cardiovascular and respiratory system, but it also can affect the urologic system. Some common urologic conditions that may occur as a result of smoking include:
Erectile dysfunction can be caused by a number of factors. However, the risk of erectile dysfunction is higher in men who smoke. This is because smoking can harden blood vessels throughout the body over time and impact blood flow to the penis. Impaired blood vessels and a lack of sufficient blood flow can make it difficult to achieve or maintain an erection. Smoking can cause this condition to occur some or all of the time depending on the severity.
Kidney stones are a common and curable condition that affects the urinary tract. Over 1 million people each year suffer from kidney stones, and many cases are related to smoking. Cigarettes contain the toxic medal “cadmium,” which has been linked to the formation of kidney stones. Even though kidney stones can be influenced by many other factors, including hydration, diet, and medication, smoking cessation is strongly recommended.
While interstitial cystitis is not an infection, it behaves similar to one. This condition, also known as Painful Bladder Syndrome, can interfere with the normal functions of the bladder, including the flow of urine. This condition is common in both men and women, but it affects primarily women. In fact, 12 percent of women have reported early signs of interstitial cystitis. Because smoking irritates the bladder, it can increase one’s risk of developing this condition and cause symptoms, such as sudden and frequent urges to urinate, to escalate.
Incontinence and OAB
Incontinence and overactive bladder are very different conditions that can both be influenced by smoking. Like with interstitial cystitis, smoking can affect the nerves and muscles in the bladder and cause the sudden urge to urinate. Once the bladder has become weak, it can result in accidental leakage. Additionally, coughing spasms caused by smoking can also lead to unwanted bladder leakage.
The Link Between Tobacco and Urologic Cancers
When people think of cigarette smoking and tobacco usage, they primarily think of lung, oral and oropharyngeal (throat) cancers. Unfortunately, tobacco products increase the risk of cancer in all parts of the body, particularly in the urologic system.
Bladder cancer is among the most common cancers in the U.S., and mainly affects people over the age of 55. In fact, in 2016, almost 80,000 people were diagnosed with bladder cancer. And while anyone can contract bladder cancer, tobacco use is the most common risk factor, and smokers are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop it over time. This is because many of the harmful carcinogens found in cigarettes collect in the urine, which can affect the bladder lining and eventually lead to cancerous cells.
Kidney cancer is one of the top 10 most common forms of cancer in men and women, and smoking tobacco doubles the risk of developing this cancer. In fact, over 62,000 new cases of kidney, or renal, cancer due to smoking were diagnosed in 2016. Kidney cancer and tobacco use correlate because smoke is brought in through the lungs, introduced into the bloodstream then filtered directly through the kidneys. Like with bladder cancer, this means that harmful chemicals can take a toll on the kidney’s lining.
Prostate cancer can be caused by a variety of factors, such as genetics, diet, infectious agents, inflammation, hormone imbalances, and exposure to toxins, including those found in cigarettes. Although the link between smoking cigarettes and developing prostate cancer has been more controversial than other forms of cancer, recent studies have shown a clear relationship between the two. Smoking increases inflammation in the prostate, which raises the risk of developing not only the disease, but an aggressive stage of disease. Additional research can conclude that prostate cancer patients who smoke will experience worse outcomes and higher mortality rates following treatment.
Importance of Smoking Cessation
Even people who have smoked for decades have hope of avoiding tobacco-related conditions and death if they put an end to their habit. Regardless of age or years spent using tobacco, smoking cessation can exponentially reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, lung cancer, infertility, and other medical problems. In fact, in a recent study, participants who stopped smoking for five years reduced their risk of heart-disease related death by 47 percent, death from lung cancer by 21 percent and stroke-related death by 27 percent.
Additionally, since the effects of smoking on certain urologic conditions is so prevalent, physicians need to educate their patients and make smoking cessation a mandatory part of treatment. Urologists can encourage patients to participate in smoking cessation programs and try to help them end their dependency on nicotine and cigarettes.
If you have questions about how smoking is affecting your bladder control or other urologic condition, visit your nearest Advanced Urology today.