Mutation alert! A new research has successfully demonstrated DNA changes that occur with tobacco smoking. The American study has also hypothesized a fresh approach on how tobacco smoking could cause cancer.

It is common knowledge that smoking causes cancer which accounts for nearly 6 million deaths worldwide. However, the detailed mechanisms of how the changes occur was unknown. This study provides an insight to how tobacco smoke can induce mutational changes in the lung cells that have been exposed to cigarette smoke.

An international group of scientists led by Ludmil Alexandrov found changes in over 5000 genomes from the 17 various cancer types associated with smoking by studying their DNA methylation changes and mutational imprints. For this, they researched genome sequence patterns from over 5000 tumors that cover the seventeen various cancer types.

The tumors which were directly exposed to tobacco smoke showed significant changes in their gene expressions than those who were exposed indirectly.

The discovery:

With this, the team has found that those who smoke more than one pack a day have 150 gene mutations that occur within a year which explains the smoking risks.Every cancer genome is like an ‘archeological record’ that is coded in the DNA itself, which now can lead to various clues on specific changes that occur in DNA which would lead to cancer.

Tumors from other organs in the body also showed suggestive changes to smoking related mutations. Smoking a pack a day lead to 97 mutations in the cells of  larynx, 23 in the mouth and 6 mutations in the liver.

These mutation changes are permanent and do not revert to normal even after you stop smoking.

Thinking about quitting?

It is hard to quit smoking when you are craving tobacco. Focus on all the good things quitting smoking will do to your body and overall health. Your body begins to recover from the effects of nicotine and additives within hours of stopping. Carbon monoxide levels which are harmful to the body begin to drop which helping the red blood cells carry more oxygen. Also, it saves a lot of money.

How difficult is it to kick the habit?

It depends on how determined you are. It also depends on:

  • Healthcare providers use a system called Pack years to identify the damage done by smoking. The number of pack years is calculated by multiplying no. of packet of cigarettes into the number of years the person smoked. Eg. One pack year is smoking one packet(20 cigarettes) each day for one year = 20 x 365 = 7305 cigarettes. You can calculate your pack years by using this Pack Year Calculator.
  • The people who you smoke with.
  • The reasons that made you begin smoking.


How to quit smoking?

There are many options available today to stop smoking. Stick to the one that suits you best and follow it diligently.

  • Make a plan and stick to it – choose a date and day and slowly taper cigarette use steadily till then. Ask friends and family to encourage and support.
  • Go Cold turkey – 90% of smokers try to quit this way ㅡ without any help, or therapy but only a small percentage have managed to quit smoking with this method.
  • Behavioral therapy- Meet an addiction counsellor to help you find ways to not smoke when the urge arises. You may also opt for stop smoking hypnosis centers to find out your trigger zones.
  • Nicotine replacement – A lot of nicotine replacement therapies in the form of gums, patches, sprays, lozenges, inhalers are available in the market. This method has by far been the most effective for quitting the habit. E- cigarette or electric cigarettes are also beneficial in helping to quit though their long term effects are unknown.
  • Medical treatment- Medical drugs are available to help stop smoking. These drugs can only be consumed under the supervision of your doctor.
  • Combination of all methods – Using more than one method may vastly increase your chances of quitting smoking. A nicotine patch with counselling sessions can help you quit better than when used singly. Make sure you speak with your doctor before you begin any kind of medical treatment.

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Consulting Physician and Prolific healthcare writer, MD Medicine, 6+ years experience

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