Does cocaine cause cancer? It’s a worrisome thought, but one that often finds itself on people’s minds.

Cocaine use has been linked to a number of physical and mental health problems, including addiction, the risk of overdose, raised blood pressure, an increased risk of heart attack and a range of mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and paranoia. But, does cocaine really cause cancer?


Is There a Connection Between Cocaine Use and Cancer?

Cocaine use is a serious problem throughout the UK. Powder cocaine is the second most widely used drug in the country (after cannabis), and figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that 2% of adults aged 16-59 and 4% of young people aged 16-24 had used the drug in the year to June 2022. This represents hundreds of thousands of people using the drug every year. Meanwhile, 21,298 people entered drug and alcohol treatment for powder cocaine in 2021-22, with 18,832 seeking help for crack cocaine.

Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant and has been linked to a wide range of health and social issues. The link between cocaine and cancer is not always clear. There have not been a huge amount of studies in this area, but some have found a connection between cocaine and cancer.


Does Cocaine Increase the Chances of Cancer?

One such study that found a link between cocaine use and cancer risk was carried out at the University of Southern California (USC) School of Medicine and published in the British Journal of Cancer.

It found that men who used cocaine were twice as likely as those who did not to develop intermediate- or high-grade non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL). This is a type of cancer that develops in the lymphatic system, a network of vessels and glands spread throughout your body. It also found that for frequent users (defined as those who had used cocaine nine times or more), the risk was more than three times greater. A similar increased risk was observed in women who used cocaine, but there were not enough female subjects in the study to draw reliable conclusions.

The study was the first time a link had been found between cocaine and cancer. While cocaine’s impact on cellular processes is not fully understood, researchers speculated that the drug might stimulate white blood cell activity and growth. This could potentially speed up the propagation of random genetic errors that could lead to cancer.

Regarding cocaine and specific cancer types, the study that found a link between cocaine and NHL was later followed by a small study that found a possible carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effect among young people with pancreatic cancer who inhaled cocaine.

While powder cocaine is generally snorted and sometimes injected, freebase or crack cocaine is frequently smoked. Another study found that smokers of marijuana and crack cocaine displayed the same kinds of precancerous conditions caused by smoking tobacco – potentially leading to cancer of the throat or lungs.

Additionally, powder cocaine is often cut with other substances, in order to boost the volume of the powder and profits for the dealers. These can include other drugs like amphetamines and laxatives, the chemical creatine and even household and industrial substances like talcum powder and laundry detergent. Many of these could be carcinogenic, potentially increasing the risk of developing cancer. One drug, Phenacetin, was withdrawn from use as a painkiller after it was found to be carcinogenic but continued to be regularly used to cut cocaine due to similar physical properties. Phenacetin has been known to cause cancer of the renal pelvis and of the ureter.


Understanding the Risks: Cocaine Use and Cancer Prevention

Beyond the potential increased risk of cancer, cocaine can cause many other illnesses and health conditions. The use of the drug reduces blood flow in the gastrointestinal tract, for example, which can lead to tears and ulcerations. It can affect appetite, leading to malnourishment issues and has recognised toxic effects on the heart and cardiovascular system. It can increase the risk of stroke and seizures, and there have been reported instances of bleeding in the brain.

Snorting cocaine can lead to problems like nosebleeds and damaged tissue, while smoking crack cocaine can damage the lungs. All cocaine use can also cause or exacerbate mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and paranoia.

When it comes to cocaine abuse and cancer prevention, early detection for cocaine users is as important as it is for anyone else. As the mechanisms linking cancer and cocaine are not fully understood, the best way to reduce the risks is to avoid using cocaine entirely. Smoking crack cocaine can be particularly dangerous as inhalation could potentially cause lung or throat cancer, as well as the ill effects of the cocaine itself on the body.


Seeking Help and Treatment: Overcoming Cocaine Addiction

The main way of reducing cancer risk in cocaine users is to help them give up cocaine, as well as other potentially dangerous and carcinogenic substances such as alcohol and tobacco. Beating an addiction is extremely challenging, however, and it is always best to seek professional help and advice.

There are a number of cocaine addiction treatment options available. Drug and alcohol services are available through the NHS and partners, which are provided free of charge but will generally involve outpatient and community-based treatment programmes. Support groups like Narcotics Anonymous can also be valuable, but the most effective way of treating cocaine and other serious addictions is via inpatient rehab.

This places you in a secure environment, away from the triggers and temptations associated with your regular drug use, allowing you to really focus on your recovery. You will be able to undergo a structured and medically supervised detox, as well as a range of therapies and other treatments designed to address the root causes of your substance misuse and every aspect of your addiction.

Don’t suffer in silence. Please get in touch today if you feel you need help. Call us today at 0800 880 7596 and get straight through to our friendly and understanding admissions team.



John Gillen - Author - Last updated: May 13, 2024

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.