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FINGER CLUBBING AND CANCER FROM SMOKING

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Of all the negative side effects of smoking – both regular cigarettes and marijuana – the last thing you’d probably consider a warning sign is problems with your nails. Clubbing refers to changes in your fingernails or toenails, which can include softened nail beds, nails that form a stronger angle with the cuticle, a nail that curves downward (think Wicked Witch of the West), and a fingertip that appears to be bulging or is warm and red.

Finger Clubbing from Smoking

So what’s the big deal about some nail problems? It turns out that one of the major causes of clubbing is lung cancer. It can also be an indication of heart disease, hyperthyroidism, various gastrointestinal diseases, and many other conditions. Since clubbing was identified more than 2,000 years ago by Hippocrates, doctors and scientists have been trying to figure out the connection. Why should swollen fingers and irregular nails have anything to do with these diseases? Researchers identified the culprit in a fatty compound called PGE2, which is produced naturally by the body to deal with the effects of internal inflammation. It’s broken down an enzyme called 15-HPGD, which is produced in the lungs. Patients with a genetic mutation that prevents the production of 15-HPGD end up with too much PGE2. In lung cancer patients, it is believed to be overproduction of PGE2 by the tumor that causes the clubbing.

Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. In the United States, cigarette smoking – as well as the use of cigars and pipes – is linked to about 80 percent to 90 percent of lung cancers. Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 toxic chemicals, of which at least 70 are known to cause cancer. People who smoke cigarettes are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke, and the chances are increased even if a person only smokes occasionally.

Secondhand smoking, or exposure to smoke from other people’s cigarettes, can also cause lung cancer. When you breathe it in, it’s the same as if you had smoked it yourself. You can also be exposed to the toxic chemicals that seep into furniture and walls. Approximately 7,300 people who have never smoked die each year from lung cancer due to secondhand smoke.

Smoking marijuana can also lead to lung cancer. According to the American Lung Association, smoking of any kind is harmful to the lungs.  Marijuana smokers tend to inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer than cigarette smokers, which means they’re getting more exposure to toxic substances per breath. There is currently no data on secondhand smoke from marijuana, but the ALA cautions that it might be harmful to children in particular.

So, the next time you look at your nails, make sure everything is as it should be. If not, you might want to consider scheduling an appointment with your doctor.

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