No evidence Tony Gwynn’s rare cancer came from chewing tobacco

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Hall of Fame outfielder Tony Gwynn is being treated for salivary gland cancer — and he’s telling reporters he suspects it was caused by his career-long use of chewing tobacco. Gwynn, 50, told the San Diego Union-Tribune he’s beginning radiation and chemotherapy for the cancer in his parotid gland, which pumps saliva into the mouth.

“I haven’t discussed that [the cause of the cancer] with doctors yet, but I’m thinking it’s related to dipping,” said Gwynn, who resumed his chewing tobacco use after two previous non-cancerous tumors were removed.

The Union-Tribune article quoted Dr. Kevin Brumund, a neck and throat specialist at UCSD Moores Cancer Center, as saying that there were no studies showing a link between parotid cancer and chewing tobacco — but that didn’t stop other news organizations from trumpeting Gwynn’s suspicions. “Tony Gwynn Has Mouth Cancer — Time To Ban Dipping?” asked the Business Insider. 

“There is no evidence at all linking salivary gland cancer with smokeless tobacco, not even from the ‘dip’-type Gwynn used,” says ACSH’s Gilbert Ross, who emphasizes chewing tobacco Gwynn used is “barely, if at all” related to the modern, purified smokeless tobacco products (snus) that ACSH has researched and concluded may well provide a relatively safe means of harm reduction for addicted smokers.  

Chewing tobacco may have a slight, but measurable, risk of causing oral cancers, says Dr. Ross — but reporters trying to make a case for a link to chewing tobacco should note that parotid gland cancer is distinct from oral cancer, and neither type is caused by modern smokeless products.


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