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Lab Study Suggests Second-Hand Smoke Ups Risk

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Exposure to nicotine from cigarettes you smoke and from second-hand smoke from other people's cigarettes has been linked to cancer and serious respiratory and heart diseases. A basic research study found that nicotine made normal and cancerous breast cell cultures grow and spread. Breast cancer cells are identified by abnormal growth and their ability to spread -- both within the breast and to other parts of the body. So the researchers think that these results might explain why nicotine exposure from second-hand smoke can promote breast cancer.

Basic research involves cell cultures in a lab. No people participated in this study.

Even though nicotine doesn't naturally occur in people, human cells have nicotine receptors, called nicotine acetylcholine receptors (nAChR). When nicotine attaches to these receptors in the nerves of the brain, it triggers an addiction to nicotine that makes quitting smoking very, very difficult.

In this study, nicotine attached to the nAChR receptors on breast cells, causing chemical signals that are known to promote the growth and spread of cells.

These results add to evidence that cigarette smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke are dangerous to your health, including breast health. The risk to your health may be even greater if you've already been diagnosed with breast cancer. Nicotine exposure increases your risk of developing another breast cancer in the future.

If you don't smoke but are exposed to nicotine by other smokers, do all you can to avoid their smoke. And do your best to encourage them to quit -- for your sake and theirs. If you do smoke, quit. Yes, it's very hard to stop smoking. But quitting is something you can do that can make a huge difference in your health and well-being, now and in the future. Help quitting is available:

  • The American Lung Association offers a free online smoking cessation program.
  • Local chapters of the American Cancer Society offer the Fresh Start program.
  • The American Cancer Society also has a quit line, 1-800-ACS-2345, that offers support and free advice on how to stop smoking from trained counselors.
  • Medicines to help you quit are available as pills, gum, or a patch you wear on your skin.
  • Acupuncture also can help you quit.

Visit the Lower Your Risk section to learn more about how you or someone you care about can quit smoking for good.

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