Smokers face the biggest risk of developing lung cancer, even if it doesn’t result in every long-term smoker developing the disease. A new study shows why.
Scientists have developed a better understanding of lifelong smokers and their relationship to lung cancer. While lung cancer’s largest risk is smoking on a regular basis, the majority of smokers don’t develop lung cancer. Turns out, people’s genes play an important role, in particular the cells that line their lungs.
Researchers spotted this benefit in the lungs of regular smokers, finding cells that are less likely to mutate with the passage of time.
A small study, published in Nature and made by researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, made this discovery. Researchers have long speculated that smoking triggers people’s DNA to mutate, something that was proved in this study, which looked into the lungs of 14 non-smokers and 19 light, moderate and heavy smokers, comparing and contrasting their results.
Their findings on heavy smokers suggest that some people’s DNA are more likely to repair itself over time, protecting them from cancers that could arise due to exposing their lungs to harmful agents in smoke.
“Our data suggest that these individuals 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 these people having very proficient systems for repairing DNA damage or detoxifying cigarette smoke,” said pulmonologist Simon Spivack from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
This finding could explain why 80% to 90% of lifelong smokers never develop lung cancer. Other factors like people’s diets, physical activity, and lifestyle could have an impact on their odds of developing cancers, including that of the lungs.
Aside from understanding the disease further, the study’s results could lead to better disease prevention and could help physicists spot the disease earlier on, something pivotal in the disease’s prognosis.
“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,” said Spivack.