Smokers' Cell Damage Exists Even If Tests Miss It, Study Says07/17/13
WEDNESDAY, July 17 (HealthDay News) -- Even if medical tests are
normal, smokers whose lungs appear healthy may still have damaged
airway cells with characteristics similar to cells found in
aggressive lung cancer, a new study indicates.
Researchers analyzed cells that line the airway from healthy
nonsmokers and smokers with no detectable lung disease. The
smokers' cells showed early signs of changes similar to those found
in lung cancer.
"When you smoke a cigarette, some of the genetic programming of your lung cells is lost," senior investigator Dr. Ronald Crystal, chairman and professor of genetic medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, said in a college news release.
"Your cells take on the appearance of a more primitive cell. It doesn't necessarily mean you will develop cancer, but that the soil is fertile to develop cancer," he explained.
The results of the study, published July 16 in the journal
Stem Cell, show that smoking causes harm even when there is
no clinical evidence that anything is wrong.
"The study doesn't say these people have cancer, but that the cells are already starting to lose control and become disordered," Crystal said. "The smoker thinks they are normal, and their doctor's exam is normal, but we know at the biologic level that all cigarette smokers' lungs are abnormal to some degree."
These very early changes can't be detected through physical
examinations, lung function tests or X-rays. "The take-home message
is: Don't smoke. Smoking is bad, and if you smoke, you're at risk,"
Further research is needed to learn why smoking causes these
changes. This could help scientists create treatments to prevent
The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about
lung cancer prevention.
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