Genetic breakdown linked to lung cancer
April 5, 1996
Web posted at: 12:50 a.m. EST
From Correspondent Andrew Holtz
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Researchers say they have pinpointed a genetic breakdown that may reveal how tobacco smoke causes cancer.
For 15 years researchers have been sifting through genes looking for the reason why smokers make up nine out of 10 cases of lung cancer. They have found that chemicals in tobacco smoke cause genetic mutations, and a report in the journal Cell puts the spotlight on a gene called "fhit."
"The fhit gene is the first of those genes to be really well defined to be associated with cancer," said Dr. Robert Comis of Thomas Jefferson University.
In Philadelphia and Italy, researchers found that the fhit gene was mutated in 80 percent of the lung tumors they tested and that the genetic breakdown of fhit may be the first link in the chain of events leading to deadly lung cancers.
"We were interested in finding the gene that opened the gate, that starts the process, and fhit seems to be it," said Dr. Carlo Croce, also of Thomas Jefferson University.
The discovery may lead to genetic tests that could help answer one of the key questions about smoking and lung cancer -- why some people who smoke two packs a day for years get cancer, and others don't.
Dr. John Laszlo of the American Cancer Society said the answer may be because of susceptibility in that particular gene.
Lung cancer is expected to kill 160,000 Americans this year, more than any other type of cancer. Fewer than one patient in seven survives at least five years and the risk of lung cancer lingers for years after smokers quit.
Researchers say by homing in on the precise spot where one kind of attack on our genes occurs, they hope to see step-by-step how tobacco smoke and other substances cause cancer.
But even if the discovery ultimately leads to better cancer treatments, experts say, smoking will still exact a terrible toll.
"If you've ever seen a person with emphysema die from air-hunger, it's about the most miserable way that I can think of," Laszlo said.
That is why, even with this genetic finding, experts say the most effective advice is -- don't smoke.
- Patches, gum boost smokers' chances of quitting - March 17,1996
- Gene discovery could solve cancer mystery - Feb. 24, 1996
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- Odds of cancer survival going up - Nov. 14, 1995
- Women and smoking - Nov. 15, 1995
- Cancer War Should Stress Prevention - Nov. 14, 1995
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