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Smokers' Cell Damage Exists Even If Tests Miss It, Study Says

Smokers' Cell Damage Exists Even If Tests Miss It, Study Says

07/17/13

WEDNESDAY, July 17 (HealthDay News) -- Even if medical tests are normal, smokers whose lungs appear healthy may still have damaged airway cells with characteristics similar to cells found in aggressive lung cancer, a new study indicates.

Researchers analyzed cells that line the airway from healthy nonsmokers and smokers with no detectable lung disease. The smokers' cells showed early signs of changes similar to those found in lung cancer.

"When you smoke a cigarette, some of the genetic programming of your lung cells is lost," senior investigator Dr. Ronald Crystal, chairman and professor of genetic medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, said in a college news release.

"Your cells take on the appearance of a more primitive cell. It doesn't necessarily mean you will develop cancer, but that the soil is fertile to develop cancer," he explained.

The results of the study, published July 16 in the journal Stem Cell, show that smoking causes harm even when there is no clinical evidence that anything is wrong.

"The study doesn't say these people have cancer, but that the cells are already starting to lose control and become disordered," Crystal said. "The smoker thinks they are normal, and their doctor's exam is normal, but we know at the biologic level that all cigarette smokers' lungs are abnormal to some degree."

These very early changes can't be detected through physical examinations, lung function tests or X-rays. "The take-home message is: Don't smoke. Smoking is bad, and if you smoke, you're at risk," Crystal said.

Further research is needed to learn why smoking causes these changes. This could help scientists create treatments to prevent lung cancer.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about lung cancer prevention.

Health NewsCopyright © 2013 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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