New research from the John Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center has shown that it doesn’t take long for smoke to start damaging lungs. Researchers exposed lab-grown human lung cells to cigarette smoke and found that after just 10 days the smoke affected the cells down to the genetic level.
Think of genes as the body’s instruction manual that’s found in every single cell of the body. When a baby is growing in the womb, it’s given a combination of genes from Mom and Dad that tell its cells what the baby will look like, how to make organs work, and what diseases the baby is more likely to develop later in life. It’s estimated that each person has between 20,000 and 25,000 genes and every single one has a job.
What happens when genes start to change? Sometimes the changes are positive, like when a person “turns off” genes responsible for problems like heart disease, obesity, or diabetes by eating right and exercising regularly. Sometimes changes are negative, like in the case of this study. Cigarette smoke damaged lung cells to the point where genes responsible from keeping cells from growing uncontrollably “off”, leaving them at a higher risk of becoming cancerous.
So is there no hope for the lung cells of smokers? Not at all. The sooner a smoker quits, the faster they start to decrease their risk of lung cancer. Those who have quit for 10 or more years have halved their risk of lung cancer compared to their smoking counterparts .
Start turning the tables on lung cancer. If you’re interested in quitting, check out Indiana’s completely free quitting resources. If you’d like to help in other ways, consider volunteering your time or donating to the Boone County Cancer Society which helps care for cancer patients and their caregivers in Boone County.