Need Another Reason to Quit Smoking? It Can Actually Damage Your DNA

Scientist evaluating a DNA strand
You can probably spot a heavy smoker walking down the street. It can trigger visible and significant changes to your appearance. Cigarette smokers are more likely to have discolored teeth, deeper wrinkles and thinning hair.
While it’s easy to see how smoking can make superficial changes to your body, you might be surprised to learn that it can actually make hazardous alterations at the molecular level, too.
In fact, a team of scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute conducted a study to better understand how cigarette smoking damages our DNA. And, in turn, how those alterations can increase our risk of various conditions including cancer.
To do so, the team of researchers evaluated DNA samples from a variety of tumors. Specifically, they investigated if and how the DNA profiles varied among smokers and nonsmokers.
In general, the Sanger team found that exposure to cigarettes profoundly changed the DNA of tissue that came into direct and repeated contact with smoke. And, other areas of the body experienced accelerated DNA damage, as well.
“And somehow, smoking seems to be speeding this clock up. Smokers have more of these particular genetic faults than you would expect for their age,” said Professor David Phillips, one of the researchers who helped lead the new study. “This research isn’t telling us anything new about the fact that tobacco smoke causes cancer, but it’s giving us insight into how,” says Phillips. “And it’s telling us that cigarette smoke is not doing the same thing in different tissues, highlighting the complexity of its effects.”
In sum, the findings from this research suggest that cigarette smoke can increase your risk of cancer and other conditions by directly and indirectly damaging DNA.
This study is important in that it provides yet another reason why it’s important to help prevent an addiction to cigarette smoking before it even starts. (Though, it’s never too late to quit! Research has also shown that, regardless of your age, putting away those cigarettes for good can still help improve your life expectancy and reduce your risk of lung cancer.)

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