Higher risk for breast cancer in Arab women exposed to men’s tobacco smoke

Arab women are unique in that they are exposed to forced smoking at a high level even though relatively few of them – aware of the danger to their babies – actually light up.

December 10, 2017 18:08
2 minute read.
‘In Between’

Dressed-up Israeli Arab Christian women walk to join an Easter Monday parade in Jaffa, in 2014. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Due to a relatively high incidence of smoking among Arab citizens, Arab women are facing increasing risks of contracting breast cancer, according to a newly published study by the University of Haifa’s School of Public Health.

Women who don’t smoke themselves but are exposed to second-or third-hand tobacco smoke face a 250% higher risk of contracting the cancer than other Arab women, according to the study by Prof. Lital Keinan-Boker, Prof. Orna Baron Epel and Dr. Zipi Avraham, published recently in the journal Breast Cancer.

More than 40% of Arab men in Israel smoke, around twice as many as Jewish Israelis. As a result “Arab women in Israel are exposed to forced smoking at a very high rate, so there is a need to promote programs among this population to raise awareness of the damage it causes, and to reduce active smoking in the population in general and in the Arab sector in particular,” the study says.

Scientists have cited the lethal effects of exposure to second-hand smoke in many countries.

“The connection between forced smoking and breast cancer is becoming more and more relevant, and relevant not only to the population in Israel, but also in countries around the world such as China, India, Turkey and the Arab countries where exposure of women to forced smoking is high as a result of the high rate of smoking in men,” the article says.

In Israel, it has found that Arab women are uniquely exposed to forced smoking at a high level, even though relatively few of them – aware of the danger to their babies – actually light up.

The study looked at 137 Arab women diagnosed with breast cancer and a control group of 274 Arab women living in the same areas who had not contracted the tumor.

A direct link was found between exposure to passive smoke and breast cancer among women who never smoked. Women exposed to second-hand smoke had two-and-a-half times the risk of breast cancer compared to women who were not exposed. It was also found that the risk increased the longer the women were exposed to tobacco smoke from others.

The researchers found that among Arab women who were exposed to forced smoking only during childhood (0 to 21 years), the risk of cancer was 2.2 times higher; if they were exposed only during adolescence (13 to 18), the risk was 2.3 times higher. If they were exposed only in adulthood, the risk was 2.1 times higher.

In women who were exposed to second-hand smoke during childhood, adolescence and adulthood, the risk of breast cancer was a shockingly high 3.7 times higher than for women who were not exposed to passive smoking at all.

Women exposed during two of the three life periods had twice the risk of breast cancer. Women exposed during one of the three had a 1.6-fold risk. The researchers found that a different genetic background was not a factor in the risk.

“Smoking is serious problem in the Arab sector, with some 45% of men addicted to tobacco,” Dr. Bishara Bisharat, retired director of the Scottish Hospital in Nazareth, told a conference in September held at the Jerusalem College of Technology. Bisharat also pointed to other health issues prevalent among Arabs that need to be addressed, such as obesity, diabetes, kidney failure and limb amputation.

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