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Researchers may have found why heavy smokers do not develop lung cancer, while non-smokers do

Smoking is addictive and it is difficult to stop this bad habit once you started it. Despite the numerous studies that prove smoking is detrimental to both the smoker and the people around him, most continued to pick up that stick and light it up.

Over the decades, researchers had found that smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. However, a recent study found out that the truth could be otherwise.

In a new study conducted by scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, it was found that many smokers don’t get lung cancer, even if they’ve stuck with the habit their entire lives.

Until now, it is widely accepted that smoking causes DNA mutations in normal lung cells, which then increases the chances of the smoker getting lung cancer. However, nobody could explain why only a small minority of heavy smokers develop the disease, while the remainder go on to live their lives as usual.

To explain this, the researchers suggested that many smokers have natural ‘defence systems’ that are better at neutralizing the detrimental effects of smoking.

Researchers call them the ‘better genes’ and this findings could point to the right direction when it comes to who (among smokers) to monitor closely for lung cancer, as opposed to taking a more reactive approach.

“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 Simon Spivack, the co-senior author of the study.

Up until the scientists’ study, there wasn’t a real way to accurately quantify mutations in normal cells. However, thanks to the hard work of co-senior author Jan Vijg, the researchers managed to develop an improved method to carry out the sequencing of entire genomes in individual cells, which helps account for and reduces sequencing errors, providing a more accurate picture of cell mutation.

With this, they looked at the genetic profiles taken from the bronchi of 14 people who have never smoked and comparing them with samples taken from 19 light, moderate, and heavy smokers.

They then found that cells do mutate with natural age, and even more so in the lungs of smokers. However, not all smokers find themselves in the same boat.

“The heaviest smokers did not have the highest mutation burden,” Spivack revealed.

He added that the data may suggest that the heavy smokers could have survived this long without much cell mutation solely due to ‘suppressed mutation’, meaning it was slowed or plateaued.

“This leveling off of mutations could stem from these people having very proficient systems for repairing DNA damage or detoxifying cigarette smoke.” he said.

This then explains why about 80% to 90% of smokers never developed lung cancer, while those who don’t smoke at all still develop tumours.

The study then suggests that it isn’t about how much you smoke, but rather how well your body can repair DNA or reduce damage to it.

Nonetheless, the findings it is not intended to encourage smoking as not smoking is still the best way to prevent lung cancer in the first place.

What do you think about this? Share your thoughts!

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