Street Drugs and Cancer Risk

Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC, Special Projects Coordinator at Eating Disorder Hope/Addiction Hope

step-275929_640Messages touting the connection between nicotine abuse and various health risks are commonly seen by the general public. Largely, it is understood that nicotine use and smoking tobacco can influence a variety of health risks, including increasing the chances of developing various forms of cancer.

While the detrimental effects of street drugs may not be as commonly publicized, the direct correlation between street drug use and physical health complications does exist. In essence, drugs impact the body in multiple ways, as ingested substances affect almost every system in the human body.

Outward Symptoms Come Last

Some individuals may falsely believe that if there are not apparent signs of physical ailments, then there health is okay and they may be out of the clear. However, outward symptoms are often the last signs that something internal is amiss or that disease has already progressed within the body.

While many people hear of the emotional and psychological effects of addiction, the long term health consequences from drug use are perhaps not as widely understood among the general public. The reality is that many health problems and infections diseases can result from drug use – whether used chronically, at high doses, for a prolonged amount of time, or even after just one use.

When Internal Systems Start to Fail

drug addict standing by window and sleeping.Because drugs often alter and interfere with the normal processes of the body, the overall systems can begin to malfunction and deteriorate. This includes the cardiovascular system, central nervous system (brain and spinal cord), gastrointestinal system, respiratory system, and more. Another concerning factor that is not as frequently discussed when it comes to drug use is the associated cancer risk that may develop as well.

According to the American Cancer Society, over one million individuals in the United States are diagnosed with cancer each year1. Cancer is the result of multiple factors, including environmental and genetic factors, and treatment methods for this disease have evolved and progressed over time.

While there are some aspects of cancer than cannot be prevented, such as genetic predisposition for example, there may be some ways to help prevent environmental triggers that may influence the development of cancer.

The Link Between Drug Abuse and Other Diseases

Drug abuse has in fact been linked to some of the top medical conditions that Americans struggle with today, including cancer, heart disease, mental illness, and HIV/AIDS. The ingestion of foreign chemicals in the body can influence disease. Exposure to carcinogens, or a substance capable of causing cancer in living tissue in particular, can trigger cancer.

Exposure to carcinogens through environmental factors, such as illicit drugs, can increase the risk of cancer by influencing a chance in the genetic blueprint of cells. Some illicit drugs may contain carcinogens that have different levels of cancer-causing potential.

Each individual has a unique chance of developing cancer that is dependent on many factors. This may cause some individuals to be more susceptible to the carcinogens that are found within street drugs than others.

The Odds of Cancer in a Drug Abusing Environment

Chest_X-ray_1300276The thought of developing cancer may seem far-fetched, but if you are abusing street drugs, there is a chance that your odds of having cancer are increased because of exposure to carcinogens. Make your health a priority by seeking out the help and treatment you need for recovery and healing.

One of the most effective steps you can take to ensuring you live a long and healthy life is by seeking professional treatment for your drug addiction. Whatever street drug you might be addicted to, becoming sober and no longer exposing your body to the harsh effects of the drug can help you reestablish a healthy life – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. If you are concerned about a potential cancer risk, be sure to discuss with your doctor, particularly if you have a family history of cancer.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What do you think about the potential relationship between street drugs and cancer risk? What do you think are ways that an individual can help support their health and effectively decrease their overall cancer risk?


  1. American Cancer Society. “Learn about Cancer”, Accessed 19 July 2015

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 8th, 2015
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About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.