No conclusive evidence yet shows a direct cause and effect between vaping and throat cancer, but a link may still exist.

Vaping is the act of inhaling an aerosol, the vapor produced by heated liquid in electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and similar devices.

While many people may believe vaping has fewer health consequences than traditional tobacco products, more and more research cautions that vaping might not be a harmless alternative.

One particular area of concern is the possible relationship between vaping and throat cancer. While no direct link has been established, chronic exposure to vaping aerosols may have adverse effects on throat tissue similar to traditional cigarettes.

No direct link between vaping and throat cancer has yet been established, but a cause-and-effect relationship may still exist.

Several factors limit research on vaping’s relationship to cancer:

  • Vaping is a relatively new smoking alternative. The first commercial e-cigarette was introduced in 2003. Very limited long-term health data is available.
  • Throat cancer may take decades to develop. The majority of e-cigarette users are 18–24 years old. Many throat cancers are typically diagnosed in people over age 55 years.
  • As a smoking alternative, many people who currently vape once smoked traditional cigarettes. They may already be experiencing cigarette-related health effects that increase cancer risk.

These factors currently make it challenging to fully understand vaping’s relationship to any long-term health complications.

Overall, if you’ve never smoked cigarettes, research suggests vaping may increase your risk of cancer compared with someone who doesn’t vape.

If you’re switching to vaping from traditional cigarettes, your cancer risk may decrease but will still remain higher than someone who has never smoked or vaped.

A research review from 2020 reports similar findings specific to head and neck cancers, which include throat cancer.

According to the review authors, current evidence points to a lower risk of developing head and neck squamous cell carcinoma in people who vape compared with people who smoke cigarettes, but e-cigarettes should not be viewed as harmless.

Review authors note that several studies suggest vaping may have effects on cells and DNA that could contribute to cancer development over time.

How common is throat cancer from vaping?

Due to limited long-term data and the lack of cause-and-effect evidence, the exact rates of throat cancer related to vaping are unknown.

Vapor from e-cigarettes comes in direct contact with your throat. It exposes your tissues to aerosolized compounds that can cause irritation and inflammation.

Due to the lack of active burning associated with traditional cigarettes, vaping typically does not produce as many chemicals. However, it can still contain compounds associated with cancer.

According to the 2020 review mentioned above, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, known carcinogens, have been found in many e-cigarette products. Acetaldehyde is considered a prominent cancer-causing agent, specifically for the esophagus and head and neck.

Researchers have also identified trace amounts of other carcinogens, like tobacco-specific nitrosamines, heavy metals like lead, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, in some vaping liquids.

Over time, exposure to these chemicals may cause damage to the throat that could increase throat cancer risk. A 2022 systematic review found e-cigarettes have statistically significant adverse effects on head, neck, and oral cells, including:

  • unusual changes to cell structure, shape, and appearance
  • cytotoxicity, damage, or destruction of cells
  • oxidative stress
  • diminished cell life and function
  • impaired fibroblast movement, which is necessary for tissue healing
  • DNA damage

Many e-cigarettes also contain nicotine, which may indirectly influence cancer risk by causing vulnerability in cells through:

  • inflammation
  • inhibited DNA repair pathways
  • altered cellular growth

Experts are still investigating the potential side effects of vaping. They advise proceeding with caution due to lung health and nicotine risks, particularly in young people.

For example, the American Lung Association indicates using e-cigarettes increases the risk of coughing, wheezing, and worsening asthma symptoms in young people because of the number of chemicals linked to serious lung disease, such as benzene, nickel, tin, and lead.

Vaping products that contain nicotine may also:

  • affect brain development in adolescents
  • increase the risk of nicotine addiction
  • increase the chances of using multiple tobacco products
  • increase the likelihood of substance or alcohol use

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes rare instances of malfunctioning e-cigarette batteries have caused fires and explosions, leading to serious injury, and ingestion or absorption of vaping liquid through the skin, leading to poisoning.

Quitting vaping can be as challenging as quitting traditional cigarettes. It’s OK to seek professional guidance to ease the transition.

You can find a tobacco cessation counselor in your area by calling 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) or texting QUITNOW to 333888.

In addition to speaking with a professional, the following tips may help:

  • eliminate products in your home, car, and at work used for vaping
  • wash clothing that retains vaping odors
  • avoid places that encourage vaping and e-cigarette use
  • ask family and friends to respect your decision to quit vaping — and avoid those who can’t
  • find a distraction for when you have the urge to vape, like chewing gum, playing a game, or going for a walk
  • practice possible distraction tactics before you quit to see what works
  • use toothpicks or straws if you miss the sensation of using an e-cigarette
  • identify and track your craving triggers to help you be mindful of them
  • keep a list or journal about the positive reasons you’ve decided to quit vaping

The verdict is still out on whether vaping can cause throat cancer. Limited long-term data prevents experts from fully understanding the effects of commercial aerosol products on the throat.

While e-cigarettes typically contain fewer chemicals than other tobacco products, many still have compounds associated with cancer, like formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. These chemicals can damage and irritate the throat, altering cells in ways that may contribute to cancer risk.