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Abstract

To clarify the relationship between tobacco use and risk of colorectal cancer, we evaluated a cohort of 248,046 American veterans followed prospectively for 26 years. In comparison with veterans who had never used tobacco, the risk of death was significantly increased for colon cancer and rectal cancer among current and former cigarette smokers and among pipe or cigar smokers, controlling for social class and occupational physical activity. Rectal-cancer risk was also significantly elevated among users of chewing tobacco or snuff. For both sites, risk increased significantly with pack-years, earlier age at first use, and number of cigarettes. These results reinforce 2 recent reports of the association of cigarette smoking and colorectal cancer in men and women. Inconsistencies in the findings of earlier epidemiologic studies appear to be due in large part to differences in length of follow-up or in choice of controls. Studies with at least 20 years of follow-up or population-based controls have tended to find elevated risk with tobacco smoking, while those with shorter follow-up or hospital controls have not. This, plus the strength and consistency of the association of smoking and colon polyps, suggest that smoking may primarily affect an early stage in the development of colon cancer. If this association is causal, tobacco use may be responsible for 16% of colon-cancer and 22% of rectal-cancer deaths among these veterans.