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Cocaine and Cancer: The Deadly Connection You Don’t Know About

Cocaine and Cancer: The Deadly Connection You Don’t Know About

Despite cancer death rates declining over the last couple of decades, the wide group of diseases continues to be among the leading causes of death worldwide. 14 million new cases of cancer were discovered in 2012 and there were 8.2 million cancer-related deaths that same year. The number of new cancer cases that will arise in the next 20 years will increase to 22 million.

  • The most common cancers of 2016 were breast cancer, lung and bronchus cancer, prostate, colon, and rectal cancers, bladder cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, melanoma of the skin, thyroid cancer, endometrial cancer, kidney and renal pelvis cancer, leukemia, and pancreatic cancer.
  • Cancer mortality is higher among men than women with 207.9 per 100,000 men and 145.4 per 100,000 women.
  • Roughly 39.6 percent of men and women, at some point during their lifetimes, will be diagnosed with cancer (based on data from 2010-2012).
  • In the United States, national spending for cancer care totaled almost $125 billion in 2010 and has the potential of reaching $156 billion by 2020.

There are many contributing factors that increase one’s chances of developing cancer. Things like diet and nutrition, hormonal changes, sun exposure and genetic history are all risk factors. Many don’t realize that substance abuse is also a major contributor to cancer and one that is preventable.

Can cocaine give you cancer?

The threat of cancer is hardly the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the dangers and negative consequences of drug abuse, but it is a huge risk when it comes to many different substances of abuse.

Cocaine is the illicit substance that is currently being found to link directly to cancer and is a very powerful and addictive stimulant drug that is made from the leaves of the coca plant native to South America. One reason for this is that it is a common practice among cocaine dealers to mix in or add other substances to the drug in order to increase the amount of product being made and distributed while increasing their own profits. Sometimes the substance that is being added to cut the cocaine is in fact carcinogenic. Carcinogens are substances capable of causing cancer in the living tissues of the body.

Phenacetin, a carcinogenic substance, was found in a certain line of cocaine being sold in the United Kingdom. Being exposed to that particular substance has shown to increase the risk of kidney problems and cancer.

You may also be wondering “Does crack cause cancer?” Whether you are snorting coke or smoking crack, both can be laced with cancer-causing carcinogens. Smoking crack can have serious long-term side effects such as cancer of the lungs, throat, or mouth and cause respiratory diseases that are most commonly related to the inhaling of smoke. Smoking crack pipes can also cause blisters and burns on the user’s mouth, lips, and fingers which can lead to permanent damage like dermal marks and scarring. It also leads to permanent lung damage by restricting the movement of oxygen to the lungs which can cause scarring, a chronic cough, trouble breathing, and pain.

Cancer / Cocaine Study

Recently, a study was done at the University of Southern California (USC) School of Medicine. The researchers who were conducting the study found that men who use cocaine are twice as likely to develop intermediate- or high-grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), than that of individuals who abstain from using the drug. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is cancer that starts in the white blood cells called lymphocyte, which is part of the body’s immune system.

Rebecca Nelson, a doctoral student at USC School of Medicine, recently said in an article published by the British Journal of Cancer, that for those individuals who use cocaine more frequently, which means they have used it on at least nine or more occasions, the risk for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma more than triples that of nonusers.

Nelson worked on the study with co-authors, who are USC School of Medicine faculty members, Leslie Bernstein, Ph.D., professor of preventive medicine; Alexandra Levine, MD, professor and chief of hematology; and Gary Marks, MD, associated professor of preventive medicine.

The researchers examined 378 Los Angeles citizens who were diagnosed with NHL. The patients, who were between the ages of 18 and 75, were paired with healthy controls of the same age, ethnicity, sex and social background. Researchers questioned the controls and patients about their use of alcohol, tobacco, and 10 recreational drugs which included cocaine, marijuana, heroin, amphetamines, magic mushrooms, barbiturates, quaaludes, LSD, PCP and “poppers” such as amyl nitrate and butyl nitrate.

Professor of preventative medicine Leslie Bernstein said, “In general, the patients used more drugs than controls, but less alcohol.” Researchers also discovered that men reported using drugs on a much more frequent basis than the women did. After considering other factors, such as medical history, the researchers were able to find a link between cocaine and cancer.

Nelson went on to say, “We saw a similar increased risk for the cancer in women using cocaine, but there were so few female drug-takers in the study that it’s impossible to draw any conclusions.”

For the first time in medical history, a direct link has been found between cocaine and cancer, said Bernstein. The authors of the study theorize that cocaine may trigger white blood cell activity and growth, as a result speeding up the propagation of possible genetic errors that can lead to cancer. Bernstein notes that the study will need to be repeated before any scientists can say with certainty if it is cocaine itself that is prompting the disease or if some other factors, still unknown, are also playing a role.

Cocaine damages many physical and mental aspects of the user such as damage to the inside of the nose, runny nose, nosebleeds, increased heartbeat, constricted blood vessels, heart attacks, and can cause behavioral changes like:

  • Unusual excitement.
  • Aggression.
  • Paranoia.
  • Poor judgment.
  • Delusions and hallucinations.
  • Depression and/ or apathy.
  • Unusual sleep patterns.
  • Agitation and irritability.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Lack of concentration and/or focus.

Cocaine can cause dental damage from users grinding their teeth and clenching their jaws. Their teeth can also become so weak that they chip and break and may even fall out. Permanent sores and scars are also a potential as addicts tend to pick and scratch at their skin, whether from a hallucination or general itchiness as a side effect of taking the drug.

Prolonged use of cocaine also causes a significant amount of damage to the brain over time as cocaine triggers a large release of dopamine in the brains neuro-receptors that control pleasure and movement. Normally the brain controls the release of dopamine in response to something that may be a potential reward or pleasure, such as the smell of good food. And if it were operating normally, it would then recycle back into the cell that originally released it, shutting off the signal in the central nervous system. Cocaine inhibits dopamine from recycling which causes an immoderate amount to build up between nerve cells. This overabundance of dopamine disturbs the brains communication signals and causes what is most commonly referred to as a “high”.

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