It's tacit that only a few populace of smokers get cancer. What spares the others from it or what specifically cause cancer in those populace? See this Washington Post Article

  • $\begingroup$ Those 5% are unlucky to have incurred a genetic mutation which survived. Cells have protective measures against cancer. So a cancer cell which has survived has very likely multiple mutations (e.g. 3 mutations in a same cell is unlikely than 1 mutation in a single cell). Also this 5% of smokers has a subset of mutation not caused by smoking + random mutations. $\endgroup$
    – Roni Saiba
    Commented Jul 26, 2018 at 15:37
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Where did you read that statistic? It does not appear in the article you link. $\endgroup$
    – kmm
    Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 15:45
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Consider that only 16.666% of Russian Roulette en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_roulette players die on the first round :-) $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Commented Jul 28, 2018 at 17:17

1 Answer 1


Cigarette smokers are most certainly prone to cancer. See Cecil Medicine, Chapter 183, on the epidemiology of cancer, exposure to tobacco is the most important environmental risk factor for cancer development, at least in the US:

Exposure to tobacco is the single largest cause of cancer in the United States... All forms of tobacco can cause cancer. Cigarette smoking causes cancer of the lip, oral cavity, nasal cavity, paranasal sinuses, pharynx (nasal, oral, and hypopharnyx), larynx, lung, esophagus (squamous cell and adenocarcinoma), stomach, colorectum, pancreas, liver, kidney (adenocarcinoma and renal pelvis), urinary bladder, uterine cervix, and myeloid leukemia.

Cancer may be identified or the cause of death in fewer smokers than might be expected, though, because smoking is an even greater risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and death due to cardiovascular disease.

Cancer is an unlikely phenomenon in an individual cell, but becomes more likely at the organism level, and even more likely over time. Though tobacco may be the most important environmental risk factor for cancer, age is actually a stronger predictor of cancer (see again, Cecil Chapter 183. Autopsy studies give us a quite remarkable example, this one shows incidental prostate cancer in nearly 60% of men over 80 who died from other causes. That figure is not out of the ordinary. Live long enough and you are likely to develop cancer.

Death due to heart disease may account for the lower than expected rates of cancer diagnoses and deaths in smokers. Nothing prevents cancer as well as dying from something else. And as discussed in the blog in the Washington Post you linked to, up to 2/3 of smokers die from smoking related causes

  • 8
    $\begingroup$ +1 for "Nothing prevents cancer as well as dying from something else" $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Jul 31, 2018 at 20:38
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    $\begingroup$ I've edited the question and removed the 5% part :-) $\endgroup$
    – user73023
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 16:54
  • $\begingroup$ @user73023 thanks! I took it out of my answer as well. $\endgroup$
    – De Novo
    Commented Aug 1, 2018 at 19:55

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