Does Chewing Tobacco Cause Cancer?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Chewing tobacco.
Chewing tobacco.

Plenty of people think that chewing tobacco is much safer than cigarettes, and that they can still get their nicotine this way without risking cancer. This is untrue, and there are numerous ways in which chewing elevates risk for cancer in various parts of the body. It’s true that unlike cigarettes, tobacco consumed in this way is unlikely to cause lung cancer, since it isn’t inhaled, but the other forms of cancer it can cause may be just as deadly.

Chewing tobacco could cause oral cancer, which may require treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation.
Chewing tobacco could cause oral cancer, which may require treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation.

Tobacco contains a variety of chemicals that are known to cause cancer: a full 28 substances that are carcinogenic. Some of these carcinogens are called tobacco-specific nitrosamines, and others include some products that most people wouldn’t willingly digest in other forms, like arsenic and formaldehyde. These are poison to the body, and over time they will have adverse effects, including the potential to create cancer.

Chewing tobacco is sometimes marketed as an alternative to smoking.
Chewing tobacco is sometimes marketed as an alternative to smoking.

Of particular risk for those who use chewing tobacco is oral cancer, since the chemicals sit in the mouth for long periods of time. They may have overall more effect on the mouth than does smoking, and they can lead to formation of pre-cancerous white spots called leukoplakia. Those who chew tobacco at are great risk for all types of oral cancer, but especially types that involve the tongue, lips, and gums.

Chewing tobacco is popular with many baseball players.
Chewing tobacco is popular with many baseball players.

Oral cancer, especially when not caught early, can be devastating. It can necessitate removal of certain tissues in the mouth, throat, sinuses, or lips, and it may require ongoing treatment with things like chemotherapy or radiation. Five years after people receive an oral cancer diagnosis, 44% of them will have died. At ten years, the figure is even more drastic, and 59% of people with oral cancer will not have survived to this point.

Chewing tobacco may cause users to experience bad breath.
Chewing tobacco may cause users to experience bad breath.

Though lung cancer is considered one of the most deadly cancers, another type that is difficult to treat and indicated in high mortality is pancreatic cancer. It is known that chewing tobacco increases risk for pancreatic cancer, and this is reason enough not to use it. Within one year of diagnosis of this condition, pancreatic cancer claims the life of 80% of the people who it affects. When treatment is possible, people may survive about 20 months, but even with treatment and very early diagnosis, 75-90% of people with this condition will die within five years.

Research shows that people who chew tobacco have the same health risks as people who smoke.
Research shows that people who chew tobacco have the same health risks as people who smoke.

Some studies also indicate that this form of tobacco elevates risk for other types of cancer in the digestive tract, including some of forms of stomach and intestinal cancer. Though marketed as an alternative to smoking, there are some studies suggesting that nicotine levels in the tobacco are even higher than in cigarettes, and since use is most common among older adolescents, this may quickly result in nicotine addiction. Before that first plug or chew is taken, people should be aware that the product causes cancer, and they are risking health and life when they use it.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

Melonlity

@Markerrag -- The fact that some tobacco gets swallowed means that it can aggravate people with digestive system disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, etc.

The sad thing is that tobacco is extremely addictive. Even if someone wants to quit, kicking that habit is a tough thing to do (particularly within the first couple of weeks). It is hard to get kids to understand the risks of smokeless tobacco and that is too bad because it is a hard thing to get away from once you are addicted.

Markerrag

It is somewhat true that chewing tobacco is safer than cigarettes, but there is a very real risk of oral cancer and other problems ranging from rotten teeth to a receding gum line.

And, yes, there have been studies that have linked smokeless tobacco to colon and stomach cancer. That is because some of that stuff does get swallowed and that is not good for you.

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    • Chewing tobacco.
      Chewing tobacco.
    • Chewing tobacco could cause oral cancer, which may require treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation.
      Chewing tobacco could cause oral cancer, which may require treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation.
    • Chewing tobacco is sometimes marketed as an alternative to smoking.
      Chewing tobacco is sometimes marketed as an alternative to smoking.
    • Chewing tobacco is popular with many baseball players.
      Chewing tobacco is popular with many baseball players.
    • Chewing tobacco may cause users to experience bad breath.
      Chewing tobacco may cause users to experience bad breath.
    • Research shows that people who chew tobacco have the same health risks as people who smoke.
      Research shows that people who chew tobacco have the same health risks as people who smoke.
    • The tongue, lips and gums are all targets for oral cancer in people who chew tobacco.
      The tongue, lips and gums are all targets for oral cancer in people who chew tobacco.