Lung Cancer

Are E-Cigarettes Better for People Who Have Cancer? Many Doctors Think Not

Published Nov 5, 2018

E-cigarettes are controversial. A lot of people take up vaping because they’re addicted to nicotine and they think e-cigarettes are a healthy alternative to smoking cigarettes. It seems logical that, for smokers who already have lung cancer, e-cigarettes would be the safer way to go to deal with that nicotine addiction. But no one can really say right now exactly how safe e-cigarettes are … and a new study out of the United Kingdom shows that a lot of doctors and nurses are hesitant to suggest people who smoke and have lung cancer make the switch to vaping.

Research presented at the 2018 National Cancer Research Institute Conference showed that 29% of surveyed health professionals said they would not recommend e-cigarettes to lung cancer patients who already smoke – despite the risks that come with smoking. Health organizations in England, like Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians, have expressed support for e-cigarette use, saying it is less harmful than smoking cigarettes. But the reality is, health professionals can’t really make the call on the risks associated with vaping, because e-cigarettes haven’t been around for that long.

American health organizations mimic the statements by the British. The American Cancer Society said that e-cigs are less harmful than cigarettes – but the health effects of long-term use are not known.

“Vaping is an interesting concept,” Dr. Raja Flores, Chairman of the Department of Thoracic Surgery at Mount Sinai Health System, told SurvivorNet. “Many believe that when you burn a product and you inhale it, that’s carcinogenic. And vaping, the idea is to create an aerosol which you can inhale, which is not a burnt product. However … it’s an aerosol, and whenever you have carcinogens in an aerosol, they will cause cancer.”

The question of addiction to nicotine is also important when the vaping discussion comes up. With patients who are already addicted to smoking cigarettes, e-cigarettes may seem like a safer alternative. But it will still be satisfying that person’s nicotine addiction, and perhaps exposing them to toxins doctors are not yet aware of. A lot of teens have also taken up vaping as well, creating a whole new generation of people addicted to nicotine. Even if doctors don’t currently know that addiction is as bad as an addiction to cigarettes … it’s still an addiction. And the jury is still out on the danger of that addiction.

“So far in my practice, I have not seen a single patient who has developed lung cancer from vaping,” said Dr. Flores. “But vaping is still in its infancy. Vaping just started about five years ago … In order to develop a cancer from a carcinogen, it takes a long period of time. When you look at the study that definitively showed that lung cancer was caused by smoking, that took 40 to 50 years to actually show. In order to prove something causes cancer, you need a large number of people and a longer period of time.”

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