August 30, 2010

Cornell Study: Any Amount of Cigarette Smoking Can Lead To Cancer-Causing Gene Changes

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Even that one drunk cigarette outside the bar on Friday night could lead to lung cancer and other pulmonary disorders, according to a new Cornell study. Researchers from the Weill Cornell Medical College, in a report that appeared in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine on August 20, found that even low levels of cigarette exposure alter the expression of 372 genes of the approximately 23,000 in the human genome, with 41 becoming “significantly modified.”“This adds to evidence that smoking harms your airways,” said Dr. Mike O’Mahony, one of the Weill Cornell researchers involved with the study. “There is no level of safe smoking. If you smoke a cigarette or are given a cigarette or take a few puffs of a cigarette, you are changing the cells that are lining your airways.” The study, which took nearly 6 years to complete, expands on previous work that the researchers undertook to examine the difference between the gene expression of heavy smokers and nonsmokers. The new research added the in-between categories of the secondhand or occasional smoker. Jennifer Austin, a communications specialist at Gannett Health Services, said that Cornell has been trying to reach occasional smokers at the University for years. According to research in 2008 by the National College Health Assessment, 8.6 percent of college students smoked one to nine days in a typical month.   Austin said that in recent years, Gannett has posted flyers around campus and created dorm bulletin boards that work to reduce the smoking that may occur after a party or during a study break.“We do know that students often smoke in these situations, and we do know that it’s risky behavior,” Austin said. She added that Gannett currently offers a wide variety of resources to help smokers at any stage of the quitting process.Dr. Yael Strulovici-Barel, another Cornell researcher involved in the study, hopes that his research will educate students and force them to examine how smoking affects their bodies.“Some people go out to bars or clubs and have only one cigarette per week and it doesn’t really haunt them,” she said. “I think this research will help people reconsider being occasional smokers.”Sharon Radish, a research coordinator at Weill Cornell Medical College in the department of genetic medicine, said that some of the researchers involved in the recently-published study will continue to examine the effects of smoking on genes. She added that the researchers have begun the process of finding participants for the next study, which will examine whether quitting smoking completely will reverse these genetic changes.

Original Author: Juan Forrer