Smoking damages genetic material in a few minutes

Cigarette smoke damages the human genome within a few minutes and thus causes cancer-causing substances to develop more quickly.

Inhaling cigarette smoke damages the genome just a few minutes after inhaling. Until now, researchers had always assumed that this damaging process would only take effect after a few years. Apparently, a few minutes are enough.

A study by scientists at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis found that cigarette smoke sustainably damages the DNA structure within a few minutes after cigarette consumption. Until now, researchers had assumed that the process of genetic damage would take several years to accelerate. But apparently it only takes around 15 minutes for differentiated hydrocarbon compounds to convert the smoke in the body into toxic substances. These toxic substances subsequently damage the genetic material stored in the DNA and thus cause tissue mutations. These mutations can in turn promote the development of malignant cells and lead to cancers such as lung cancer or esophageal cancer. As the team led by Stephen Hecht from the University of Minnesota confirmed, the damage to the genome affects not only regular smokers, but also those who only occasionally smoke a cigarette. This is because the cancerous substances are formed immediately.

Frequent diagnosis: lung cancer Around 46,000 people develop new lung cancer each year in Germany. People have smoked in about 90 percent of cancer cases before. Even those who have already stopped smoking can get cancer. Lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men. A 5-year survival prognosis exists in only five percent of all cases. Only if lung cancer is discovered early can the survival rate be higher. Since early-stage lung cancer does not cause symptoms that are noticeable to the patient, the early detection rate is generally very low.

Cigarette smoke not only triggers lung cancer. According to current knowledge, smoking can trigger at least eighteen other cancers. Because the smoke contains a large number of very toxic substances, of which the toxic polycyclic hydrocarbons in particular are scientifically linked to the development of bronchial carcinomas. In order for the toxicological substances to be carcinogenic, they have to be activated by the organism, so to speak, chemically. This activation creates a variety of connections that have a negative impact on the genetic material and promote the development of carcinomas. Previous investigations have not been able to clarify exactly how the hydrocarbons produce harmful substances that damage DNA.

Genetics are damaged after only a quarter of an hour. In the course of the study, the researchers handed over a total of twelve volunteers specially prepared cigarettes, which the test subjects then smoked. The preparations contained the polycyclic hydrocarbon "phenanthrene". In advance, the scientists chemically marked the substances so that the path through the metabolism in the body can be traced. The test subjects were examined medically before and after consumption. The participants were drawn ten milliliters of blood at regular intervals.

After completing the study, the researchers found a toxic substance in the participants' blood that results from the chemical conversion of phenanthrene. This substance is considered carcinogenic and is largely responsible for the development of tissue mutations. What was new, however, was that this chemical compound can be detected in a high concentration in the blood just 15 to 20 minutes after cigarette consumption. This damaging effect occurs as quickly as if the deadly substance was injected directly into a person's bloodstream. This means that the very first glow stick damages the DNA and the effect does not only appear after years of use. The scientists concluded that it has now been proven that a single cigarette can be enough to cause cancer. This is a warning for everyone to start smoking cigarettes at all, said study leader Hecht. The study results were published in the US science magazine "Chemical Research in Toxicology". (sb)

Read about lung cancer:
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Pistachios as protection against lung cancer
Lung cancer can be sniffed out
Diagnosis smoker's lung: disease rate increases

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