American Association for Cancer Research

AACR Press Releases

Cigarette Smoking Increases Colorectal Cancer Risk


December 3, 2009

• Long-term smoking associated with a 30 to 50 percent increased risk.
• Avoiding smoking is one way to reduce colorectal cancer risk.

Bookmark and Share

PHILADELPHIA - New study results strengthen the evidence that people who smoke cigarettes over a long period of time have an increased risk for developing colorectal cancer, even after adjusting for other risk factors.

"This provides one more reason not to smoke, or to quit as soon as possible," said senior author Michael J. Thun, M.D., M.S., vice president emeritus, epidemiology and surveillance research at the American Cancer Society. "Colorectal cancer should be added to the list of cancers caused by smoking."


Findings are published in the December issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, as part of a special focus on tobacco.

Thun and colleagues tested the association between long-term cigarette smoking and colorectal cancer after adjusting for multiple other factors that are generally associated with risk, including screening. From 1992 through 2005 the researchers followed almost 185,000 participants aged 50 to 74 years old; participants described their behaviors and medical conditions.

Participants who smoked cigarettes for 40 or more years, or who did not quit before age 40, had a 30 percent to 50 percent increased risk of developing colon or rectal cancer during the follow-up, even in analyses that adjusted for 13 other potential risk factors, according to Thun. After 13 years of follow-up, the researchers identified 1,962 cases of invasive colorectal cancer.

While previous large studies conducted in long-term smokers showed similar results, Thun stated that this study is the first to control for screening and all of the suspected risk factors for colorectal cancer, such as alcohol consumption, physical inactivity and consumption of red or processed meat.

"These findings contributed to the evidence recently reviewed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in October of this year," Thun said. "IARC upgraded the evidence that smoking causes colorectal cancer from ‘limited' to ‘sufficient'."

This IARC reclassification brings the number of cancer organ sites causally related to cigarette use to 17, which includes cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, nasopharynx, nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses, larynx, lung, esophagus (both squamous cell and adenocarcinoma), stomach, colorectum, liver, pancreas, kidney (both renal cell and transitional cell carcinoma), urinary bladder and lower urinary tract, uterine, cervix, and myeloid leukemia.

Additional resources:

Download a photo of researcher Michael J. Thun, M.D., M.S.

Subscribe to the Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention RSS Feed
Subscribe to the AACR RSS News Feed

# # #

The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, the AACR is the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes 30,000 basic, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and nearly 90 other countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants, research fellowship and career development awards. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts more than 16,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment and patient care. The AACR publishes six major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention; and Cancer Prevention Research. The AACR also publishes CR, a magazine for cancer survivors and their families, patient advocates, physicians and scientists. CR provides a forum for sharing essential, evidence-based information and perspectives on progress in cancer research, survivorship and advocacy.

Media Contact:
Tara Yates
(267) 646-0558
tara.yates@aacr.org