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Women who continue smoking after menopause may be more likely to receive a positive breast cancer test, as new research suggests that tobacco use at this stage of life can lead to increased estrogen levels, a widely recognized risk factor for cancer.
Cigarette smoking has long been known to increase a woman's risk of a number of chronic diseases, including breast cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The researchers, who hailed from the University Medical Center of Utrecht in the Netherlands, said their findings may help explain why tobacco use can be so harmful to health.
For the study, the team took blood samples from more than 2,000 post-menopausal women. The results showed that those who admitted to smoking had much higher estrogen levels than those who never smoked or quit more than one year earlier.
"Obviously, quitting smoking has major health benefits such as prevention of cancer, respiratory and heart diseases," said Judith Brand, the researcher who led the study. "Our research suggests that smoking cessation may have additional effects by modifying hormone-related disease risks."
On the positive side, the fact that women who never smoked had similar estrogen levels to women who previously smoked suggests that the damage caused by tobacco use may be reversible.
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