One of the major causes behind lung cancer remains smoking, yet only a minority of smokers develops this disease. A new study has been led by scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and has been published online on April 11, 2022 in Nature Genetics. This study suggests that some smokers may have robust mechanisms that protect them from lung cancer. The findings of the study could help in identifying those smokers who face increased risk of developing lung cancer.
In this study, the researchers compared mutations in cells lining the lungs from 14 who have never-smoked aging between 11 to 86 years and 19 smokers aging between 44 to 81 years. These smokers have used tobacco for up to 116 pack years where one pack year is equal to one pack of cigarettes smoked every day for a year. They collected lung cells from patients who were undergoing tests unrelated to cancer.
The team found that mutations accumulated in the lung cells of non-smokers but significantly more mutations were found in smokers’ lung cells. They also found the number of lung cell mutations increased with the number of pack years of smoking. Their data suggest that heavy smokers may have survived for so long in spite of their heavy smoking because they managed to suppress further mutation accumulation. This leveling off of mutations could stem from the people having very proficient systems for repairing DNA damage.
Simon Spivack, M.D., M.P.H., a co-senior author of the study, professor of medicine, epidemiology & population health, and genetics at Einstein, said, “This may prove to be an important step toward the prevention and early detection of lung cancer risk and away from the current herculean efforts needed to battle late-stage disease, where the majority of health expenditures and misery occur.” Their study could offer a new strategy for early detection of lung cancer. They now wish to develop new assays to measure one’s capacity for DNA repair or detoxification which could help in accessing lung cancer risk.
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