New study proves benefits of quitting smoking at any age
Based on the lungs of ex-smokers, researchers have confirmed that compared to current smokers, those who had stopped smoking had more genetically healthy lung cells, leading to a much lower risk of developing into cancer.
Researchers believe it could also allow new, healthy cells to actively replenish the lining of our airways, a shift which in proportion of healthy to damaged cells could help protect against cancer. Highlighting the benefits of quitting smoking completely despite the age, as it could do much more than just stopping further damage to the lungs.
Results from the study also found that despite not being cancerous, over 90% of lung cells in current smokers had up to 10,000 extra genetic mutations when compared with non-smokers and were caused directly by the chemicals in tobacco smoke.
It was also found that people who had stopped smoking, there was a sizeable group of cells lining the airways that had escaped the genetic damage from their past smoking. Genetically, these cells were on par with those from people who had never smoked: they had much less genetic damage from smoking and would have a low risk of developing into cancer.
Ex-smokers had as many as four times more of these healthy cells than people who still smoked – representing up to 40% of the total lung cells in ex-smokers.
“People who have smoked heavily for 30, 40 or more years often say to me that it’s too late to stop smoking – the damage is already done” commented joint senior author Dr Peter Campbell, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute. “What is so exciting about our study is that it shows that it’s never too late to quit – some of the people in our study had smoked more than 15,000 packs of cigarettes over their life, but within a few years of quitting many of the cells lining their airways showed no evidence of damage from tobacco.”
Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death in the UK, accounting for 21% of all cancer deaths. Smoking tobacco damages DNA and hugely increases the risk of lung cancer, with around 72% of the 47,000 annual lung cancer cases in the UK caused by smoking.