June 13, 2023

Can Vaping Cause Lung Cancer?

Vaping is a fairly new technology, meaning its effects on your body are not yet fully known.

Decades of research show that cigarettes are harmful. Cigarettes produce more than 7,000 chemicals when burned — 69 of which are toxic and known to cause cancer. But does vaping cause cancer?

Here’s a closer look at the effects of vaping on your lungs, and whether this practice can cause lung cancer.

What Ingredients Are in Vaping Liquids?

The liquids that go into vape pens — also known as e-juices — contain many chemicals.

Ingredients and chemicals found in vaping liquids may include:

  • Nicotine
  • Artificial flavorings
  • Oil
  • Propylene glycol — an additive that is also in antifreeze and paint solvents
  • Formaldehyde — a flammable gas found in building materials and pesticides
  • Carcinogens — a group of chemicals known to cause cancer
  • Acrolein — a chemical used to kill weeds
  • Diacetyl — a flavoring agent that produces a buttery flavor
  • Diethylene glycol — a chemical used in antifreeze
  • Heavy metals, including nickel, tin, lead, and cadmium
  • Benzene — a chemical in gasoline, plastics, and pesticides
  • Ultrafine particles

What Happens to Your Lungs When Vaping?

When all the above chemicals are heated up inside a vape pen, additional toxic chemicals are formed and released into the lungs. This can cause the lungs to become irritated and inflamed, and trigger a wide range of diseases. The chemicals you inhale when vaping are also found to damage the DNA in your lungs and bladder, and reduce their ability to heal.

Health Conditions Linked to Vaping

In recent years, since vape pens were introduced, researchers have linked vaping to a long list of health problems.

Health conditions linked to vaping include:

  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Asthma, and worsened asthma in those who already have it
  • Lung disease
  • Heart disease
  • Respiratory disease
  • Acute lung injury
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD refers to a group of lung diseases that block airflow and make it difficult for you to breathe.
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Bronchiolitis obliterans, also known as “popcorn lung.” Popcorn lung occurs when scar tissue builds up in the lungs to block airflow. In people who vape, popcorn lung is usually caused by e-juices that contain diacetyl.
  • Lipoid pneumonia. This type of pneumonia occurs when fatty acids build up in the lungs to cause symptoms including inflammation. In people who vape, this condition is usually caused by inhaling the oily substances in e-juices.
  • Collapsed lung. A collapsed lung occurs when air escapes from out of the lung and into the chest cavity, where it puts pressure on the lung.
  • Lung cancer

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Can Vaping Cause Cancer?

Yes, vaping can cause lung cancer, according to the American Lung Association. Many vaping liquids contain acrolein, an herbicide commonly used to kill weeds. Acrolein has been linked specifically to COPD, acute lung injury, asthma, and lung cancer.

In a recent study, researchers looked at the effects of vape pen chemicals on mice. They exposed the mice to e-juice for 54 weeks, a time frame equivalent to three to six years of vaping in humans. Of those mice, 22.5% developed lung cancer and 57.5% developed pre-cancer in the bladder.

The researchers who led the study reported that even though no human cancer has been associated with vaping so far, this behavior has led to hundreds of lung illnesses and deaths.

Signs and Symptoms of Vaping-Related Damage

Many symptoms of lung damage caused by vaping are the same as those caused by smoking cigarettes.

Signs of possible vaping-related damage include:

  • Cough
  • Chronic cough
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coughing up blood
  • Coughing up mucus that contains blood
  • Sharp pain in the chest or shoulder
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the chest
  • Frequent bouts of pneumonia

What Are Other Lung Cancer Risk Factors?

Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. People who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from it than people who do not smoke. It’s possible that vape use may also be a top factor for this disease, though researchers have yet to establish a clear link between vaping and lung cancer.

Other risk factors for lung cancer include:

  • Secondhand smoke
  • This gas can unknowingly seep into homes and buildings to cause lung cancer.
  • Asbestos
  • Arsenic
  • Diesel exhaust
  • Silica
  • Chromium
  • A personal or family history of lung cancer
  • Radiation therapy to the chest
  • Beta-carotene supplements

Your risk for lung cancer may be especially high if you vape and also meet one or more of the above risk factors. Fortunately, many of the above risk factors can be avoided.

If you currently smoke cigarettes or use a vape pen, talk to your doctor about quitting. Have your home tested for radon, and take steps to reduce radon levels if they are too high. If you work around substances like asbestos or arsenic, follow your employer’s workplace safety guidelines. For instance, wear a respirator mask and protective clothing to reduce exposure to these harmful substances.

When to See a Doctor

You should make an appointment with your doctor right away if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms of damage from vape use. It is also possible to get sick from secondhand vapor, especially if you live with someone who vapes.

Vape pens were initially introduced as an alternative to smoking that could help people stop using cigarettes. However, they are harmful like cigarettes, especially given how e-juices contain nicotine and many other toxic chemicals.

If you need help quitting vaping, your doctor can help. Many of the same smoking cessation treatments can be used to help you stop vaping. Nicotine replacement, medications, and support group therapy are some of many smoking cessation treatments that can help you quit, and reduce your risk for lung cancer and other vaping-related illnesses.

Request an appointment with Healthcare Associates of Texas if you are experiencing any symptoms of damage from vaping. We can perform an exam and review all your available treatment options.

References

  1. American Lung Association. 2020. “What’s in a Cigarette? | American Lung Association.” American Lung Association. July 13, 2020. https://www.lung.org/quit-smoking/smoking-facts/whats-in-a-cigarette.
  2. American Lung Association. 2019. “What’s in an E-Cigarette? | American Lung Association.” Lung.org. 2019. https://www.lung.org/quit-smoking/e-cigarettes-vaping/whats-in-an-e-cigarette.
  3. “Can Electronic-Cigarette Vaping Cause Cancer?” 2021. Journal of Cancer Biology 2 (3). https://doi.org/10.46439/cancerbiology.2.027.
  4. American Lung Association. 2020. “Health Risks of E-Cigarettes and Vaping | American Lung Association.” Www.lung.org. American Lung Association. July 13, 2020. https://www.lung.org/quit-smoking/e-cigarettes-vaping/impact-of-e-cigarettes-on-lung.
  5. 2021. “What Are the Symptoms of Lung Cancer?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. October 18, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/symptoms.htm.
  6. CDC. 2020. “What Are the Risk Factors for Lung Cancer?” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. September 22, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/lung/basic_info/risk_factors.htm

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