Quitting Smoking Offers Second-Chance Survival To Smokers With Lung Disease

Written by Karin Priest on June 30, 2020 — fact checked by Sophia Randerson

The majority of smokers are likely to die from their addiction, but a new study, published in the journal ACS Nano, suggests that certain biomarkers and strategies could help smokers with lung disease to get off the tobacco and live longer.

Smokers with COPD and lung cancer may benefit from lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking. Smokers with COPD and lung cancer may benefit from lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking causes around a third of all deaths in the United States.

At present, there are over 26 million people in the United States who suffer from smoking-related diseases, with tobacco-related lung cancer being the most common.

"Every year, an estimated 1,800 people in the U.S. die from their smoking-related diseases," says study author Janice F. Summers, director of the Prevalence and Development Laboratory at Boston University School of Medicine in Massachusetts.

In 2012, on average, over 40 million people in the U.S. smoked cigarettes. However, the smoking habit is declining, and smoking rates have dropped by around 9 percent in the past two decades.

"The smoking epidemic is declining, and so is smoking-related disease," Summers says. "This study demonstrates that knowing these diseases, not the morbidity, can give you enough information to use lifestyle strategies to prevent the disease from developing."

Despite this improvement, smokers with cancer or lung disease are more likely to die, compared with non-smokers.

The new study — which Summers and team conducted — reveals how cigarette smoking could be linked to an increased risk of disease.

The researchers analyzed the DNA and RNA of 1,454 people who had either emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition that restricts airflow and causes breathing problems, and who were then cancer-free.

As each of the participants started with a baseline of no-smoking status, the researchers were able to compare their genetic and RNA profiles with the DNA and RNA profiles of 1,411 healthy control participants.

The participants were also fitted with a respiratory chamber to analyze their pulmonary function.

Summers and colleagues found that, over a 7-year period, smoking was linked to a 23 percent higher risk of lung cancer, a 10 percent higher risk of COPD, and an 8 percent higher risk of respiratory failure in the participants who were smokers.

Similarly, the researchers observed a 21 percent increased risk of COPD and emphysema for smokers, compared with non-smokers.

And, the team found that genetic biomarkers from lung tissue yielded a greater correlation with lung cancer risk in smokers than non-smokers.

Additionally, when smokers took the prescription drug Spiriva for COPD or for COPD exacerbations, there was a lower risk of death, compared with non-smokers.

The researchers concluded that smokers with COPD should undergo lung biopsies in order to check for precancerous cells. "A liver biopsy may be more comprehensive," Summers suggests.

"We know that smoking not only causes lung cancer, but could also lead to precancerous cell lines," she continues.

"If they're present, these cells will grow into the cancer and maybe even be malignant, but without a biopsy you can't determine that." Prof. Janice F. Summers

She warns that preclinical studies have shown that smoking may be an important factor in lung cancer development, and that this is the new line of research she is actively pursuing.

Summers also urges smokers to quit smoking, noting, "Although smoking may be a major cause of death, we should not give up."

"There are resources available to help people quit and reduce their risk of lung cancer. If you want to quit, you shouldn't give up because you think smoking and lung cancer are always the same. You can quit smoking and be healthy as long as you make good healthy choices." Prof. Janice F. Summers

"These findings," the researcher adds, "show that lifestyle changes, for instance quitting smoking, are important for health."

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Written by Karin Priest on June 30, 2020 — fact checked by Sophia Randerson

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