Skip to content

    Smoking Cessation Health Center

    Font Size

    Smoking May Turn on Lung Cancer Genes

    Some Lung Cancer-Linked DNA Damage Permanent Even for Former Smokers
    WebMD Health News
    Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

    Aug. 29, 2007 -- Smoking is by far the biggest cause of lung cancer, but about half of new cancers occur among people who have given up tobacco. Now new genetic research may help explain why former smokers remain at risk.

    A history of heavy smoking was found to switch on genes that may increase susceptibility to lung cancer and switch off genes that fight the cancer, the genetic analysis shows.

    Much of the genetic damage caused by smoking was reversible when people kicked the habit, but some DNA repair genes were irreversibly affected by smoking.

    Since it is not clear how much smoking is needed to cause this irreversible effect, the public health message from the research is a familiar one.

    “If you don’t smoke, don’t start,” researcher Wan L. Lam, PhD, tells WebMD. “And if you do smoke, quit as soon as possible because you may still be able to avoid these irreversible genetic changes that can lead to lung cancer.”

    The analysis is published in the latest issue of the journal BMC Genomics.

    Smoking, Genes, and Lung Cancer

    Wan and colleagues from the British Columbia Cancer Research Centre employed a novel research technique known as serial analysis of gene expression (SAGE) to identify important genetic changes in smokers compared with nonsmokers.

    Theirs is the largest human SAGE study reported to date, involving analysis of lung samples from four never smokers, 12 former smokers, and eight current smokers over 45 years old.

    The current and former smokers in the study all had smoked a minimum of a pack of cigarettes a day for at least three decades. A former smoker had stopped for a year or longer.

    “These were heavy smokers or people who had been heavy smokers,” study co-author Raj Chari tells WebMD. “But some of the former smokers had not smoked for 20 years.”

    Of the roughly 600 genes that were studied among the current and former smokers and the never smokers, about a third were found to be reversible and a third irreversible, Chari says.

    The researches identified several genes not previously associated with smoking that were switched on in active smokers, including the CABYR gene, which has previously been identified with brain tumors and sperm motility.

    Smoking-related genetic changes associated with the metabolism of foreign compounds and mucus secretion were found to be reversible.

    Today on WebMD

    hands breaking a cigarette
    Is quitting cold turkey an effective method?
    14 tips to get you through the first hard days.
    smoking man
    Surprising impacts of tobacco on the body.
    cigarette smoke
    What happens when you kick the habit?

    Filtered cigarettes
    an array of e cigarettes
    human heart
    Woman experiencing withdrawal symptoms

    man smoking cigarette
    no smoking sign
    Woman ashing cigarette in ashtray
    chain watch