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Quitting Smoking Restores Healthy Lung Cells

Smoking is the primary causal factor for lung cancer, and quitting can help reduce the risk of developing the disease. The latest research has revealed that people who quit smoking allow their bodies to replenish the lungs with healthy non-cancerous cells that protect the lungs and lower the risk for cancer.

Cancer forms whenever cells undergo genetic changes (mutations) that command the cells to ignore their normal growth sequence to rapidly replicate out of control. Body cells acquire mutations every year, but most of them are quite harmless and will not affect the cells.

Sometimes mutations may enter the wrong gene and wrong cell and push them to cause cancer.

Researchers devised methods of isolating healthy cells from the lungs and growing them for DNA sequencing. They analyzed the genomes of the cells from smokers, ex-smokers, and non-smokers.

In the non-smokers, it was discovered that cell mutations increased at a steady pace with age. By the time they turn 60 years, their normal lung cells will have up to 1,500 mutations, which are caused by the normal wear and tear of life. Only a few of them had the driver mutations (those that cause cancer).

In current smokers, it was found that every lung cell had extra 5,000 mutations. The variation from cell to cell also increased. Some cells had up to 15,000 mutations, which is ten times more mutations compared to a non-smoker. The extra mutations are attributed to cigarettes. The number of driver mutations was very high as well, with each cell having at least one driver mutation. Some cells had two to three driver mutations, which would likely turn cancerous.

In ex-smokers, they found two groups of cells. One group had many extra mutations, just like in current smokers, while the other cells were normal. The healthy cells had the same number of mutations as those in non-smokers. The near-normal cells were four times larger compared to current smokers, suggesting that the cells increase to restore the airway lining after quitting smoking.

Near normal cells help to protect against lung cancer. The risk of the disease reduces because the body replenishes airways with normal cells. Researchers are working on ways to stimulate them and help patients to recover. However, people need to stop smoking to slow down the accumulation of damage and help normal cells to regrow and make them healthy again.

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