Quitting Smoking This Way Could Lead to Brain Cancer, Study Finds

Nicotine, including in patches and gums, could help lung cancer spread to the brain.

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We don't need to tell you all the ways that smoking is bad for your health—and it's an especially dangerous habit amid a pandemic of a respiratory virus. But while quitting smoking is an essential step to take for your overall well-being, the way you quit could have long-term health effects of its own. Many of the products people use to replace cigarettes—including patches, gums, and vapes—contain nicotine. And while using them might lower your craving for cigarettes, new research has found that nicotine itself could actually help lung cancer become brain cancer.

Scientists at Wake Forest School of Medicine have been looking at the reason why up to 40 percent of people with the most common type of lung cancer develop metastatic brain cancer. In a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, they found that nicotine may promote the spread (or metastasis) of cancer cells from the lungs to the brain.

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Nicotine itself is not considered a carcinogen, but the results of this study are significant both for smokers and those using nicotine products to quit. While smoking cigarettes is a major cause of lung cancer, scientists found that nicotine is what modified certain cells in the brain, shifting them from a protective role to supporting the growth of tumors.

young white woman smoking an e-cigarette outside
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The average survival time of patients with metastatic brain tumors is less than six months, so any nicotine users—whether or not they are cigarette smokers—may want to consider eliminating the addictive substance from their lives. "Based on our findings, we don't think that nicotine replacement products are the safest way for people with lung cancer to stop smoking," lead author of the study Kounosuke Watabe, PhD, professor of cancer biology at Wake Forest School of Medicine, said in a statement.

It's important to remember that given all the negative health effects of smoking, quitting cigarettes is always a better choice for your body than not. What the Wake Forest study shows, however, is that not all methods of quitting are created equal. If you're considering nicotine patches, gums, or even vaping, make sure you're aware that the risks don't end with ditching cigarettes.

And if you want to stay on top of your health, These Are All the Cancer Warning Signs Hiding in Plain Sight.

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