SATURDAY, Jan. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Cigarettes start to
destroy a smoker's DNA within minutes of inhaling, new research
indicates, suggesting that the habit causes immediate genetic
damage and quickly raises the short-term risk for cancer.
"The results reported here should serve as a stark warning to those who are considering starting to smoke cigarettes," lead study author Stephen S. Hecht, from the Masonic Cancer Center and department of pharmacology at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said in a news release from the American Chemical Society.
Hecht and his colleagues reported their observations in the
current issue of the journal
Chemical Research in Toxicology.
In their research, the investigators focused on a class of
cancer-causing culprits found in cigarette smoke called polycyclic
aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs.
PAHs are known to inflict damage on DNA and are therefore
thought to play a large role in the onset of lung cancer, a disease
that the researchers pointed out has been linked to the loss of
3,000 lives a day worldwide, mostly as a consequence of
To date, however, little had been known about the exact
mechanism by which PAH exposure causes disease.
To better understand the risks, Hecht's team conducted what they
called a "unique" analysis, by labeling and tracking a single PAH
-- phenanthrene -- through the bodies of 12 volunteer smokers.
The study authors noted that this approach was "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: having rapidly transformed in the body into a known
toxin, the PAH in question began to cause havoc on the DNA of the
smokers within just 15 to 30 minutes after smoking.
The velocity of the cancer-causing process surprised the
research team. They said the speed with which the potentially
lethal DNA assault began was comparable to having injected the PAH
directly into an individual's bloodstream.
For more on the health risks posed by smoking, visit the
U.S. National Cancer Institute.