How Smoking Affects Five Urologic Conditions

Erectile dysfunction, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, infertility and overactive bladder can all be negatively affected by smoking.

Urologic Condition impacted by smoking | Denver Urology Associates | man breaking cigarette

Many lifestyle choices can affect your risk of cancer and other urologic conditions. If you want to reduce your chances for erectile dysfunction, infertility, overactive bladder and cancer of the bladder and kidneys, smoking is at the top of the list of habits to ditch.

It is not just cigarettes that are the problem. E-cigarettes, hookas and smokeless tobacco are often underestimated as health risks but they can be just as harmful as cigarettes. You could also be at a high risk if you are exposed to second-hand smoke.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15 percent of Americans over 18 currently smoke cigarettes. This is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. Smoking accounts for 1 in 5 deaths, that is more than 480,000 deaths each year.

Smoking doesn’t always lead to death. It can cause urologic conditions and other major health concerns. More than 16 million Americans are living with a smoking-related disease.

If you are a smoker, I recommend you talk to your doctor about stopping. The longer and more frequently you smoke, the more your risk for many conditions increases. I am going to focus on the urologic conditions that are affected by smoking.

Erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction (ED) impacts 20-30 million American men and is caused by a range of psychological and physical factors. Among them is smoking cigarettes. This should come as no surprise since smoking can damage your blood vessels, and ED is often the result of poor blood supply to the penis.

The urologic condition of erectile dysfunction is more common as a man gets older but it can develop at any age. A 2005 study found that ED was more likely in men who smoked, and for younger men experiencing ED, smoking is very likely the cause.

Quitting smoking can often improve your vascular health and in turn your erectile health.

Bladder cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute, bladder cancer is estimated to represent nearly 5 percent of all new cancer cases in 2017 in the U.S. More than 79,000 new cases are expected in 2017, with 16,870 estimated deaths. Bladder cancer becomes more common as a person ages, and men are 3 to 4 times more likely to get it than women.

Tobacco is the most common risk factor for developing cancer. Smokers are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop bladder cancer than nonsmokers. Fifty to sixty-five percent of bladder cancers are attributable to smoking in men, and 20-30 percent in women.

Why? Smoking causes harmful chemicals and drugs to collect in the urine. These chemicals affect the lining of the bladder and raise the risk of bladder cancer.

Kidney cancer

Smoking affects the kidneys because tobacco makes its way into the bloodstream, which is then filtered by the kidneys.

In 2017 nearly 64,000 U.S. adults will likely be diagnosed with kidney cancer. The main risk factors for kidney cancer are being a male, age, obesity, genetic factors and smoking. A review of the United Kingdom kidney cancer cases found that an estimated 29 percent of cases in men and 15 percent of cases in women were caused by or associated with smoking. That data also showed that the risk is greater in those who have been smoking longer and more frequently.

Overactive Bladder

Overactive bladder (OAB) affects an estimated 33 million Americans. OAB includes urinary urgency, frequent urination, leaking of urine and the need to wake up from sleep to urinate. Urge incontinence in specific is 3 times more common in women who smoke cigarettes compared with those who have never smoked.

One cause of OAB is smoking. Smoking bothers the bladder, which can cause frequent urination. Smoking also causes chronic coughing in many patients, which can lead to urine leakage due to the muscles in the bladder weakening.

Infertility

Smoking has always been strongly discouraged during pregnancy, but many people do now know that it can also have detrimental effects on the ability to conceive a child. This is because smoking can harm the genetic makeup of eggs and sperm, reduce hormone production, and affect the environment of the uterus, leading to infertility. The infertility rate for smokers is twice as high as for those who don’t smoke.

Studies have found that success from in vitro fertilization is diminished if either partner is a smoker. The chance of a miscarriage is also higher, as well as for birth defects in your child.

The good news is that the effects of smoking on infertility can be reversed within a year of quitting. Some studies even show that two months after stopping smoking your chances of conception can be higher.

Poor healing after surgery for urologic conditions

If you are a smoker about to have surgery, you should be aware of some extra concerns. The chemicals in cigarette smoke can increase the chance that your bones or tissue may not heal well. They also bring an increased chance of infection and pain after surgery.

Smokers have anywhere from 2 to 10 times the risk for their bones or wounds not healing after surgery. They also often take longer to heal than nonsmokers.

Smoking affects how our bodies heal by changing the way we handle oxygen, restricting blood vessels. This makes it difficult for hemoglobin and oxygen to get to the tissue where they are needed. It also makes your blood thicker, impeding its flow through narrowed blood vessels.

Make a plan to quit smoking

If you are interested in quitting smoking and using tobacco, give yourself the best chance of success by talking to your doctor openly and honestly. Being truthful about your use will help your doctor find the best treatment for you to quit, whether that’s behavior and/or medical therapy.

Another great resource is the Colorado QuitLine. They offer a free program to Colorado residents over the age of 15, providing special tools, research-based information, a support team, and a community of others trying to become tobacco free.

Quitting smoking even after you have been diagnosed with a disease that may have been caused by the tobacco can improve your health. Regardless of your age, you can substantially reduce the risk of urologic conditions and disease, including cancer, by quitting.

Stopping the use of tobacco can have many mental and physical benefits including:

  • Better quality of life
  • Longer life
  • Easier breathing
  • More energy.

It is the job of my fellow physicians and myself to help our patients follow a healthy lifestyle that includes ending their dependence on tobacco and nicotine.