Nicotine and Cancer

Nicotine and Cancer

Does Nicotine Cause Cancer?

We know that tobacco products are linked to cancer and are therefore worth quitting. There are numerous harmful chemicals in vaping products, including nicotine. Nicotine is an addictive substance that makes it harder to quit smoking, but does it also cause cancer? While more research is needed, recent studies show that nicotine may influence several important steps in the development of cancer, exacerbate the disease and make it more likely to return. The best way to quit using nicotine products is with a gradual reduction program. Find out more about this substance and its connection to cancer.

What Is Nicotine?

Nicotine is a chemical compound found in tobacco products, including smokeless tobacco products and e-cigarettes. It’s a highly addictive substance and is the reason why tobacco products are so hard to quit. Once you start vaping, nicotine alters the chemicals in your brain so that you start to crave it.2 In addition, some tobacco products have additives that cause you to absorb large amounts of nicotine in just a few seconds.2

To quit nicotine without experiencing nicotine withdrawal, use a program that gradually reduces your nicotine and slowly decrease your daily nicotine intake until you don’t need it at all.

Nicotine and Cancer

While nicotine is what makes vaping so addictive, it was never considered one of the main carcinogens, or cancer-causing ingredients, in cigarettes. However, recent studies have linked nicotine with the development and reappearance of cancer.1 Carcinogens, like some of the ones found in vapes, can damage your DNA, which is responsible for making new cells and directing each cell to do its job.3,4 When your DNA is damaged, your cells begin to proliferate before they’re fully developed. Cells that increase rapidly pick up more mistakes in their DNA, which can eventually turn into cancer.3,4

Recent studies have reported the following about nicotine:1 

  • Nicotine may activate signaling pathways that cause your cells to multiply rapidly, leading the cells to mutate as described above. 

  • Nicotine may decrease CHK2, a tumor suppressor and a line of defense against cancer.

  • Nicotine may increase the growth of new cells—this was shown in studies on tumor cells lining the breast, colon and lungs. 

  • Nicotine may interfere with chemotherapy treatments, making them less effective. 

These studies suggest that nicotine could be a carcinogen, but more research is necessary for conclusive evidence.1

What Other Chemicals Are in Cigarettes?

In addition to nicotine, there are other harmful chemicals in vapes, including:5 

  • Carbon monoxide: A poisonous gas that replaces the oxygen in your blood, forcing your heart to work harder and damaging your lungs. Oxygen-deprived cells and tissues can result in health problems such as heart disease and stroke.

  • Artificial flavoring and additives: 

  • Benzene, arsenic and formaldehyde: All toxic chemicals in cigarettes that can cause cancer. 


  1. Nicotine: Carcinogenicity and Effects on Response to Cancer Treatment. PMC. Accessed 7/7/22.

  2. Nicotine Is Why Tobacco Products Are Addictive. FDA. Accessed 7/7/22.

  3. Tobacco and Cancer. CDC. Accessed 7/7/22.

  4. Cancer cells. Cancer Research UK. Accessed 7/7/22.

  5. Tobacco. NHS inform. Accessed 7/12/22.

  6. Cigarette Smoking: Health Risks and How to Quit (PDQ®)–Patient Version. NCI. Accessed 7/12/22.

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