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Smoking Linked to Kidney Cancer

by Jennifer Wider, MD

(Washington DC, March 17, 2005)  Most everyone knows that smoking can cause lung cancer. But how many people realize that inhaled tobacco smoke can wreak havoc on their kidneys? A new study in the March 10, 2005 issue of the International Journal of Cancer reveals that the link between smoking and kidney cancer is much greater than expected.

The researchers analyzed data from 24 separate studies and found that the prevalence of kidney cancer was much higher among smokers than nonsmokers. They also discovered that the more a person smoked, the greater the danger for his/her kidneys.

"The risk of kidney cancer seems to increase with tobacco consumption," said Paolo Boffetta, M.D., lead researcher of the study and head of the Gene-Environment Epidemiology Group in Lyon, France.

Historically, a larger number of men have smoked cigarettes than women. The gender gap appears to be closing however, as the decline in smoking rates among adult women seemed to stall in the 1990's while the number of teenage girls using cigarettes increased significantly. Roughly 30 percent of high school seniors currently smoke, according to a report from the U.S. Surgeon General. Almost all women who presently smoke started the habit as teens.

The study found that male smokers were at greater risk of disease than female smokers. "This might reflect a true biological event," Boffetta said. "But it also might be due to the fact that the tobacco epidemics have not yet fully matured in women. For example, smoking women have on average smoked less and for a shorter duration than smoking men."

In the United States, men were smoking cigarettes in large numbers after World War I. Most women in this country did not start smoking until after World War II. According to the surgeon general, there has been a 600 percent increase in lung cancer deaths for women since 1950. The number of women suffering from smoking-related kidney disease may reflect the same trend, as America's female smoking population ages.

Smoking tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the United States and has been linked to many types of cancer, heart disease and respiratory ailments.

Smoking-related illnesses claim the lives of more than 440,000 people each year and injure many more. On average, smokers die thirteen to fourteen years earlier than nonsmokers. This study is one of the more prominent ones to shed light on the danger that smoking poses to the kidneys.

Kicking the habit of cigarette smoking has a tremendous number of advantages. Studies have shown that quitting can immediately improve lung function and significantly lower the risk of lung cancer and other diseases. This recent study revealed that there were benefits for the kidneys as well. "The risk of kidney cancer decreases after quitting," Boffetta added.

Women may have a harder time quitting smoking than men. One study shows that women face more severe withdrawal symptoms than men after they quit. The same study reveals that women are less likely to reap the benefits from nicotine replacement therapy when compared with men.

"Women who smoke need to realize that quitting is usually different for them than a man," Sherry Marts, Ph.D., vice president for scientific affairs at the Society for Women's Health Research, a Washington, D.C., based advocacy organization. "Although nicotine replacement therapy may not work as well for them, women are more likely to join smoking cessation groups for social support. Women should not be discouraged by these differences, but recognize that there are multiple paths to the goal of a smoke free life."

Once they quit, women will likely enjoy the same health benefits as men, including benefits for the kidneys.

© October 28, 2004 Society for Women's Health Research

The Society for Women's Health Research is the nation's only not-for-profit organization whose sole mission is to improve the health of women through research. Founded in 1990, the Society brought to national attention the need for the appropriate inclusion of women in major medical research studies and the resulting need for more information about conditions affecting women. The Society advocates increased funding for research on women's health, encourages the study of sex differences that may affect the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease, and promotes the inclusion of women in medical research studies. Dr. Donnica Moore has been a member of the Society since 1990 and is a past member of its Board of Directors.


Hunt J, Boffetta P et al. Renal cell carcinoma in relation to cigarette smoking: Meta-analysis of 24 studies. International Journal of Cancer. 2005, 114:101-108.

Office of the Surgeon General, Public Health Priorities: Tobacco Use, 2004.

Office of the Surgeon General, Women and Smoking, a report of the Surgeon General, 2001.

Pogun S. Sex differences in brain and behavior: emphasis on nicotine, nitric oxide and place learning. Int J Psychophysiol. 2001;42(2):195-208.

Created: 3/17/2005  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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