Smoking harms DNA within minutes: Study

According to the latest research in the US, smoking tobacco damages the body in minutes rather than years. The study was published in the Chemical Research in Toxicology revealed that the chemicals which cause cancer form rapidly after smoking.

The study was small but the results were alarming say researchers and anti-smoking charity Ash described the research as “chilling” and as a warning that it is never too early to quit. Till date only the long term effects of smoking like heart disease, cancers etc were known. This study suggests the damage begins just moments after the first cigarette is smoked.

The team analyzed level of chemicals linked with cancer, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), in 12 patients after smoking. PAH added to cigarettes is then modified by the body and turned into another chemical which damages DNA and has been linked with cancer. The team studied this by labeling and tracking a single PAH – phenanthrene in the smoker’s body. This change only took between 15 and 30 minutes to take place.

According to lead authors Professor Stephen Hecht, from the Masonic Cancer Center and department of pharmacology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, “This study is unique, it is the first to investigate human metabolism of a PAH specifically delivered by inhalation in cigarette smoke, without interference by other sources of exposure such as air pollution or the diet… The results reported here should serve as a stark warning to those who are considering starting to smoke cigarettes.” Martin Dockrell, director of policy and research at Ash (Action on Smoking and Health) added, “Almost everybody knows that smoking can cause lung cancer…The chilling thing about this research is that it shows just how early the very first stages of that process begin - not in 30 years but within 30 minutes of a single cigarette for every subject in the study… The process starts early but it is never too late to quit and the sooner you quit the sooner you start to reduce the harm.”

The research was funded by the US National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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