A study found that smoking may make changes in cells that are linked with multiple cancers, including breast and gynecological cancers. These changes may provide an early warning sign of cancer, particularly in cheek cells.
Researchers analyzed cheek swab from 790 women and found that those who smoked were more likely to have certain changes associated with these cancers. Most people do not realize that these changes are linked with smoking.
The researchers were looking for epigenetic changes in cells. Epigenetic changes are changes in the complex system of chemicals and proteins that attach to DNA and turn genes on and off. These changes are associated with cancer development and can be used by exposure to environmental factors such as cigarette smoke.
The study shows that smoking has a major impact on the epigenome of normal cells that are directly exposed to the carcinogen. This research helps experts understand the first steps in cancer’s development. The epigenome is network of chemical compounds around DNA that regulated the activity of genes.
These findings could lead to more efficient ways to predict people’s risk of cancer.
Environmental factors, such as smoking, can disrupt a cell’s epigenome, eventually leading to the out-of-control cell growth seen in cancer.
Researchers analyzed the epigenetic changes within cells, and found a signature of smoking. By looking for this signature, researchers were able to differentiate between normal and cancerous tissue with near absolute certainty, including cancers in other parts of the body.
This signature could also be used to predict if a pre-cancerous lesion would progress to a full-blown invasive cancer.
Researchers found that cheek cells may be a better indicator of a woman’s epigenetic changes than her blood cells. The cheek cells showed a 40-fold increase in abnormal genetic activities, compared with the blood samples taken from the same people.