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Smoking and Myeloproliferative Neoplasms

Posted on February 04, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Mark Levin, M.D.
Article written by
Alicia Adams

Research has shown that smoking is associated with an increased risk of developing myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs), as well as further risks if you already have MPNs.

MPNs are a group of blood cancers that are caused by a genetic mutation in the stem cells of the bone marrow. The mutated stem cells start making too much of one or more types of blood cells: white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets. The four major types of MPNs are based on which types of cells are affected:

Researchers aren’t exactly sure what causes MPNs, but studies have pointed to environmental and genetic risk factors as contributors. One environmental risk factor is smoking. Tobacco contains many carcinogens (substances that can cause cancer), among them benzene.

Here’s what to know about the connection between smoking and MPNs, as well as the benefits of quitting smoking if you have an MPN — including fewer or less severe symptoms, more effective MPN treatments, and more.

How Is Smoking Connected to MPNs?

Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals and 60 carcinogens. When cigarette smoke is inhaled, the body launches an inflammatory response to minimize damage from the chemicals. If the inflammatory response lasts too long or the body can’t shut it down properly, it leads to chronic inflammation. If the source of the chronic inflammation is not removed, cells can begin to mutate and multiply rapidly, increasing the risk of cancer. Additionally, benzene — one of the carcinogens found in cigarette smoke — has been shown to cause acute leukemia.

Several studies have documented the connection between smoking and MPNs. In a 2018 study, researchers used data from the Danish Health Examination Survey to uncover a significant association between smoking and the development of MPNs.

Another meta-analysis of several studies concluded that smoking increased several inflammatory markers in the blood. These markers were linked to increased risk of MPNs in people who currently or formerly smoked compared to people who never smoked.

Benefits of Quitting Smoking

Quitting smoking has several important benefits if you’re living with an MPN.

Reduce Symptoms of MPNs

Data from the Mayo Clinic and the Myeloproliferative Neoplasm Quality of Life Group show that people who smoke or formerly smoked self-report worse symptoms than people who don’t use tobacco. People who smoke or formerly smoked reported more feelings of fatigue, early satiety (feeling full when eating), and problems concentrating compared to those who didn’t smoke. Researchers went on to say that quitting smoking can help lessen the intensity of symptoms over time.

Increase the Effectiveness of Treatments

Smoking has been shown to interfere with cancer treatments, causing delays, dose reductions, or early treatment cessation. With PV and ET, treatment may include aspirin to reduce the risk of thrombosis (blood clots). Smoking reduces the effectiveness of the anti-clotting mechanism of aspirin, resulting in aspirin treatment that is ineffective or that requires a higher dosage than usual.

Toxins in tobacco can change the outcomes of cancer treatments, too. Depending on the individual, smoking can increase the toxicity of chemotherapy drugs or make them less effective.

Quitting smoking can help cancer treatments do their job and allow your body to heal more quickly.

Help Reduce the Side Effects of Treatments

Cancer treatments like chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation can have side effects such as nausea, fatigue, weight loss, and pain. Smoking while in treatment can intensify side effects and cause them to linger.

One study tracked people undergoing radiation or chemotherapy treatment for cancer. Six months after treatment ended, people who smoked reported more sleep problems, depression, concentration problems, and weight loss than people who didn’t smoke. In comparison, people who didn’t smoke reported fewer side effects that lasted for less time. Moreover, people who quit smoking before treatment showed side-effect results similar to people who didn’t smoke.

Reduce the Chances of Secondary Cancers

Quitting smoking reduces the chance that cancer will occur elsewhere in the body. Cancer can occur anywhere. Smoking increases the risk of almost all cancers, as the toxins in cigarette smoke affect nearly all the body’s major organs.

Cutting Back Vs. Quitting

Because cigarette smoke contains known carcinogens, there is no safe limit to smoke. However, reducing the amount you smoke can be a step in the right direction to stop smoking completely.

What About E-Cigarettes?

E-cigarettes (also known as vaping) are often perceived as a safer alternative to smoking tobacco products. However, research has shown that using e-cigarettes causes an inflammatory reaction and contributes to cell DNA damage. Further research is needed to fully understand how e-cigarettes impact health.

Talking With Your Doctor About Quitting Smoking

People who smoke and who have been diagnosed with MPNs may be reluctant to talk with their health care providers about their smoking. You may feel that quitting smoking after receiving a diagnosis is useless, or you may worry that your health care team will judge you if you’re honest about your smoking habits. However, your health care team is there to support you, and these hard conversations are often well worth it.

For example, people who quit even after a diagnosis can improve their overall health and obtain a better quality of life. A 2012 study of people who quit smoking documented an improvement in quality of life that persisted three years after quitting.

Your doctor can help you stop smoking by giving you suggestions to reduce cravings and increase healthy habits. If you are concerned about your smoking and how it may impact your health, talk with your health care provider.

Talk With Others Who Understand

Quitting smoking is tough for many people, but you don’t have to go through it alone. On myMPNteam, the social network for people with myeloproliferative neoplasms, more than 2,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with myeloproliferative neoplasms.

Have you quit smoking since being diagnosed with an MPN? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on myMPNteam.

  1. Myeloproliferative Neoplasms (MPN) Research Funded by LLS — Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
  2. Smoking and Philadelphia-Negative Chronic Myeloproliferative Neoplasms — European Journal of Haematology
  3. Myeloproliferative Disorders — Mount Sinai
  4. What Are Platelets and Why Are They Important? — Johns Hopkins Medicine
  5. Types of Myeloproliferative Neoplasm (MPNs) — Stanford Health Care
  6. Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia — Mayo Clinic
  7. The Genetic Characteristics of BCR-ABL-Negative Myeloproliferative Neoplasms — Zhonghua Nei Ke Za Zhi
  8. Philadelphia-Negative Chronic Myeloproliferative Neoplasms — Revista Brasileira de Hematologia e Hemoterapia
  9. Reducing Levels of Toxic Chemicals in Cigarette Smoke: A New Healthy People 2010 Objective — Public Health Reports
  10. How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  11. Inflammation and Cancer — Annals of African Medicine
  12. Lifestyle Factors and Risk of Myeloproliferative Neoplasms in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study — International Journal of Cancer
  13. Smoking Is Associated With Increased Risk of Myeloproliferative Neoplasms: A General Population‐Based Cohort Study — Cancer Medicine
  14. The Danish Health Examination Survey 2007–2008 (DANHES 2007–2008) — Scandinavian Journal of Public Health
  15. Smoking, Blood Cells, and Myeloproliferative Neoplasms: Meta-Analysis and Mendelian Randomization of 2.3 Million People — British Journal of Haematology
  16. Tobacco Use in the Myeloproliferative Neoplasms: Symptom Burden, Patient Opinions, and Care — BMC Cancer
  17. Benzene and Cancer Risk — American Cancer Society
  18. Facts About Benzene — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  19. Tobacco Use May Worsen MPN Symptoms — CURE
  20. The Effect of Cigarette Smoking on Cancer Treatment-Related Side Effects — The Oncologist
  21. Aspirin Cures Erythromelalgia and Cerebrovascular Disturbances in JAK2-Thrombocythemia Through Platelet-Cycloxygenase Inhibition — World Journal of Hematology
  22. Cigarette Smoking Inhibits the Anti-Platelet Activity of Aspirin in Patients With Coronary Heart Disease — Chinese Medical Journal
  23. Health Consequences of Smoking, Surgeon General Fact Sheet — U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  24. Continued Smoking May Affect Cancer Patients’ Treatments, Symptoms, and Side Effects — Cancer Treatment Centers of America
  25. Stopping Tobacco Use After a Cancer Diagnosis — Cancer.Net
  26. 3 Reasons To Quit After a Cancer Diagnosis — Cleveland Clinic
  27. Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  28. How To Quit Using Tobacco — American Cancer Society
  29. E-Cigarettes Induce Toxicological Effects That Can Raise the Cancer Risk — Scientific Reports
  30. Smoking Cessation and Quality of Life: Changes in Life Satisfaction Over Three Years Following a Quit Attempt — Annals of Behavioral Medicine
  31. How To Quit Smoking — American Cancer Society
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Mark Levin, M.D. is a hematology and oncology specialist with over 37 years of experience in internal medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Alicia Adams is a graduate of Ohio State University and worked at their medical research facilities supporting oncology physicians and investigators. Learn more about her here.

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