Stop-smoking aids may cause cancer

Nicotine gum cancer risk higher than thought

Nicotine chewing gum, lozenges and inhalers designed to help people to give up smoking may have the potential to cause cancer, research has suggested.

Scientists have discovered a link between mouth cancer and exposure to nicotine, which may indicate that using oral nicotine replacement therapies for long periods could contribute to a raised risk of the disease.

A study led by Muy-Teck Teh, of Queen Mary, University of London, has found that the effects of a genetic mutation that is common in mouth cancer can be worsened by nicotine in the levels that are typically found in smoking cessation products.

‘Although we acknowledge the importance of encouraging people to quit smoking, our research suggests nicotine found in lozenges and chewing gums may increase the risk of mouth cancer,’ Dr Teh said.

‘Smoking is of course far more dangerous, and people who are using nicotine replacement to give up should continue to use it and consult their GPs if they are concerned. The important message is not to overuse it, and to follow advice on the packet.’

Most nicotine replacement products have labels advising people to cut down after three months of use and to stop completely after six months.

Mouth cancer affects nearly 5,000 people each year in Britain and is usually linked to smoking, chewing tobacco or drinking alcohol. It is often diagnosed at a late stage, and consequently has a poor prognosis.

Dr Teh emphasised that smokers should not stop their attempts to give up. ‘There is no doubt about the harmful effects of smoking, so smokers should make every effort to quit.’

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