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What is the relationship between shisha smoking and breast cancer?

Claim: A Twitter user claimed that avoiding shisha could help prevent breast cancer.

The claim that avoiding shisha could reduce the risk of breast cancer is ‘Partially True’. It, depends on one’s genetic predisposition to breast cancer.

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On October 9, 2021, a Twitter user Dr. Chinoso Ebemba (@aproko_doctor), claimed in a post that if people are trying to avoid breast cancer then they should also avoid smoking shisha.

The post further revealed that ‘Shisha contains the same toxins as cigarettes which destroy DNA and can lead to cancer of any form. Shisha is not just flavour, vapor and vibes.’

What is the relationship between shisha smoking and breast cancer?
Screenshot of the Twitter post.

The post as of October 11, 2021, has garnered over 5,000 likes and 3,900 retweets.

What is Shisha?

Shisha, also known as Hookah, nargile, or hubble bubble are water pipes that are used to smoke specifically made tobacco mixtures that come in a wide variety of flavours. It can come in different flavours such as apple, mint, cherry, chocolate, coconut, licorice, cappuccino, and watermelon. These flavours often make the smoke smell sweet and are usually heated by burning wood, coal or charcoal.

What is the relationship between shisha smoking and breast cancer?
 Image of Shisha Photo Credit: CDC

Most smokers often perceive shisha to be less harmful than smoking cigarettes, but studies show that the smoke contains many of the same toxic components found in cigarette smoke. Constituents of shisha smoke include; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), volatile aldehydes, CO, nitric oxide (NO), nicotine, furans, and nanoparticles. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, people who smoke shisha may be at risk for some of the same diseases cigarette smoking induces, such as:

Oral cancer

Lung cancer

Stomach cancer

Cancer of the esophagus

Reduced lung function

Decreased fertility.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast grow out of control. Breast cancer cells usually form a tumour that can often be seen on an x-ray or felt as a lump.

The breast is made up of lobes and ducts. Each breast has 15 to 20 sections called lobes. Each lobe has many smaller sections called lobules. The most common type of breast cancer is ductal carcinoma, which starts from the cells of the ducts. 

Cancer that begins in the lobes or lobules is called lobular carcinoma and is more often found in both breasts than are other types of breast cancer while inflammatory breast cancer is an uncommon type of breast cancer in which the breast is warm, red and swollen.

Breast cancer happens when the cells in the breast grow and divide in an uncontrolled way, thereby creating a mass of tissue called a tumor. Cells in the body normally divide only when new cells are needed. Sometimes, the cells could grow out of control, while the cells are normal, then the tumour is termed benign (non-cancerous). However, if the cells growing out of control are abnormal then the tumour is termed malignant (cancerous).

What is the relationship between shisha smoking and breast cancer?
Image of the anatomy of the breast   Photo credit: Oasis International Journal


Consultant radiation and clinical Oncologist with the University of medical science and teaching hospital, Ondo, (UNIMEDTH), Dr. Ndidi Okunnuga, said exposing a woman to smoking shisha really does cause breast cancer.

She said’ Anything tobacco exposes a woman to cancer, and so that claim is correct. Anything that has the origin of tobacco exposes a woman to the risk of breast cancer. There are so many risk factors of cancer and one of them is tobacco smoking.’

‘So, in whatever form either cigarette, ‘taba’, shisha as long as it is tobacco, has a very high risk of causing breast cancer,’she added.

A Consultant Oncologist Dr. Ebere Okereke, said there is no direct link between shisha smoking and breast cancer.

According to her, ‘a session of shisha however delivers over 100 times the smoke from a regular cigarette, with its toxic chemicals. This can predispose to a host of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases as well as cancers (of the lung, mouth, etc.) in the long run. Shisha is generally not as innocuous as it’s marketed to be.’

A medical practitioner, Dr. Wilson Thomas Ikubese, said the claim is partially true, although it depends on the individual’s genetic predisposition to breast cancer.

Dr. Ikubese said ‘smoking generally is not good for the health, it primarily affects the lungs and it could secondarily affect other parts of the body. And in terms of breast cancer, it is primarily a predisposition of the individual. There are genes one carries that predisposes them to develop breast cancer, so one cannot say it is totally wrong.’

‘The gene for breast cancer must be there, for it to surface, however, if it isn’t, then such person can smoke and not have breast cancer. So, those who start smoking much earlier and have a genetic predisposition for breast cancer can eventually come up with it,’ he added.

According to a report by the  World Health Organization WHO, avoidance of exposure to tobacco smoke is part of interventions that can reduce the risk of breast cancer. However, the report reveals that even if all of the potentially modifiable risk factors could be controlled, this would only reduce the risk of developing breast cancer by at most 30%.


The claim that avoiding shisha could reduce the risk of breast cancer is partially true. It, however, depends on one’s genetic predisposition to breast cancer. A woman can also have breast cancer when the cancerous cells move from the primary site of cancer (lung/mouth)- due to smoking,  to the breast.

The researcher produced this fact check article per the Dubawa 2021 Kwame KariKari Fellowship partnership with Crest FM to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.

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