Early Morning Smokers Have Higher Cancer Risk

2 New Studies Find That Lighting Up Early May Boost Risk of Cancer of the Lung, Head, or Neck

Medically Reviewed by Keith Barnard, MD on August 08, 2011
From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 8, 2011 -- According to two new studies, smokers who take their first puffs soon after they wake up in the morning may be at greater risk of developing lung cancer and head and neck cancer than smokers who wait to have their first cigarette of the day.

The results of these studies, published in the American Cancer’s Society's journal Cancer, may help identify smokers who have a particularly high risk of developing cancer and who would benefit from targeted intervention to reduce this risk.

It's common knowledge that cigarette smoking increases the risk of developing various types of cancer, but why do some smokers get cancer and why are others less at risk? Researchers from Penn State College of Medicine investigated whether nicotine dependence, as characterized by the time taken for a smoker to light up after waking, affects their risk of developing cancer of the lung or head and neck, no matter how often and how long they smoked.

Lung Cancer and Smoking

The lung cancer study included 4,775 smokers with lung cancer and 2,835 smokers without diagnosed lung cancer. When compared with those who smoked more than 60 minutes after waking, smokers who had their first cigarette 31 to 60 minutes after waking were 1.31 times more likely to develop lung cancer, and those who smoked within 30 minutes were 1.79 times more likely to develop lung cancer.

Head and Neck Cancer and Smoking

The head and neck cancer study included 1,055 people with head and neck cancer and 795 people without diagnosed head and neck cancer, all of whom had a history of cigarette smoking. When compared with smokers who smoked 60 minutes after waking, people who smoked 31 to 60 minutes after waking were 1.42 times more likely to develop head and neck cancer. People who smoked within 30 minutes were 1.59 times more likely to develop these cancers.

These findings indicate that the need to smoke right after waking in the morning may increase smokers' risk of getting cancer. "These smokers have higher levels of nicotine and possibly other tobacco toxins in their body, and may be more addicted than smokers who refrain from smoking for half an hour or more," Joshua Muscat, PhD, one of the authors of the study, says in a news release. It may be a combination of genetic and personal factors that cause a higher dependence on nicotine, he says.

Because smokers who light up first thing in the morning are a group at high risk of developing cancer, they may benefit from a targeted smoking cessation program. The researchers suggest this could reduce the negative health effects of tobacco as well as the costs associated with its use.