When it comes to our health, the choices we make regarding alcohol consumption and smoking play a significant role. Excessive alcohol consumption and smoking have long been recognized as detrimental to various aspects of our well-being. In recent years, scientific studies have shed light on their potential association with an increased risk of brain tumors. On the account of World Brain Tumor Day, let’s understand the evidence surrounding the link to excessive alcohol consumption and smoking to increased risk of brain tumors.
Understanding brain tumors
Brain tumors are abnormal growths of cells within the brain or its surrounding tissues. As Health Shots spoke to Dr (Prof) Kameshwar Prasad, Director, Neurology, Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj, he explained that brain tumors can be divided into two main types: as primary, originating within the brain (known as de novo brain tumor), or secondary, spreading from other parts of the body.
He further explained that “the tumors that originate in the brain usually stay confined within the skull and don’t typically spread to other areas. However, there are tumors that begin elsewhere, like the lungs or breasts, and then metastasize or spread to the brain. These tumors are called brain metastases.” Brain tumors can have severe consequences on an individual’s physical, cognitive, and emotional functions, depending on their size and location.
Link between alcohol consumption and brain tumor
Unlike smoking, excessive alcohol consumption is not a direct risk factor for de novo brain tumor development. “However, in cases where liver tumors develop due to alcohol-related liver cirrhosis, they can spread to the brain and cause brain tumor symptoms,” says Dr Prasad. But as a general rule, alcohol consumption itself is not a direct cause of de novo brain tumors.
While the exact mechanisms behind alcohol’s impact on brain tumor development are not yet fully understood, several hypotheses have been proposed:
1. DNA damage and mutations: Alcohol metabolites can cause DNA damage and mutations, leading to abnormal cell growth. This process could potentially contribute to the development of brain tumors.
Also read: World Brain Tumour Day: Can you survive a brain tumour?
2. Weakening the immune system: Chronic alcohol consumption weakens the immune system, impairing its ability to identify and destroy cancerous cells. This compromised defense mechanism may increase the risk of brain tumor formation.
3. Nutritional deficiencies: Alcohol abuse often leads to poor dietary habits and inadequate nutrient intake. Malnutrition, specifically a deficiency in antioxidants and essential vitamins, may play a role in promoting brain tumor growth.
Connection between smoking and brain tumor
Dr Prasad explained that smoking tobacco can lead to both types of brain tumor:
1. Smoking and metastatic brain tumor
“Smoking is a well-known cause of lung cancer, and lung cancer has a tendency to spread to the brain,” says Dr Prasad. When lung cancer cells spread to the brain, it can cause symptoms such as headaches, vomiting, and seizures. This association between tumors originating elsewhere and migrating to the brain is strong.
Also read: World Brain Tumor Day: Read 7 myths and facts about brain tumor
2. Smoking and de novo brain tumors
Recent studies indicate that smoking can increase the risk of developing de novo brain tumors, which are tumors that originate directly within the brain. “The most common type of de novo brain tumor is called glioma, and it has been found to be influenced by smoking,” says Dr Prasad. Research suggests that smoking can raise the risk of developing gliomas by 15 to 20 per cent. Therefore, smoking is considered a significant risk factor for this particular type of brain tumor.
While further research is needed to establish a definitive causal relationship, current evidence indicates a potential association between excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and an increased risk of brain tumors. It is crucial to recognize the significance of adopting healthier lifestyle choices and reducing these risk factors. By moderating alcohol consumption and avoiding smoking, individuals can positively impact their overall well-being and potentially reduce their chances of developing brain tumors.