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Cigars and Cancer: Risks of Cigar Smoking

Daily cigar smoking carries significant health risks. Not only can cigar smoking cause many cancers (such as throat cancer, and cancer of the larynx, esophagus, and lung) but also chronic obstructive lung disease and coronary heart disease. There is also evidence which strongly suggests that cigar smoking is associated with cancer of the pancreas. Many of these cancers (lung, esophageal, and pancreatic) are associated with extremely low survival rates.
For example, compared to nonsmokers, smoking one to two cigars per day doubles the risk of oral cavity (lip, tongue, mouth, and throat) and esophageal cancers, and increases the risk of cancer of the larynx by six times.
Cancer risks increase with the number of cigars smoked per day. Smoking three to four cigars per day increases the risk of oral cancers to 8.5 times the risk for nonsmokers; the risk for esophageal cancer is nearly four times as great as nonsmokers.

Comparing Cigar and Cigarette Smokers

There are differences in the patterns of cigar and cigarette use. Most cigarette smokers smoke every day and inhale. In contrast, as many as three-quarters of cigar smokers smoke only occasionally, and some may smoke only a few cigars per year. (The health risks of occasional cigar smoking -- less than daily -- are unknown.) The majority of cigar smokers do not inhale.
In spite of these differences, daily cigar smokers and cigarette smokers have similar levels of risk for oral (including throat), larynx, and esophageal cancers. Even among daily cigar smokers (smoking one or more cigars per day) who do not inhale, the risk of oral cancers is seven times greater than for nonsmokers and the risk for larynx cancer is more than 10 times greater than for nonsmokers.
Inhalation, however, does have a strong effect on disease risk. Compared to nonsmokers, daily cigar smokers who reported inhaling deeply had:
  • 27 times the risk of oral cancer
  • 15 times the risk for esophageal cancer
  • 53 times the risk of cancer of the larynx.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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