Why nicotine gum and patches might not be so safe after all: Scientists discover the drug isn’t just addictive, it can also cause cancer
- Nicotine exposure causes thousands of mutations in a cell’s DNA
- These are similar to those identified in cells experiencing oxidative stress
- Oxidative stress is a known precursor to cancer
Nicotine patches have helped many smokers kick the habit, but new research suggests they may actually do more harm than good.
A U.S. study found nicotine alone could cause cancer.
The researchers, at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, say nicotine is such a powerful carcinogen that nicotine-infused products designed to help people give up smoking may not be safe.
Nicotine is one of 4,000 chemicals found in cigarette smoke.
While many of these chemicals are recognised as carcinogens nicotine has, until now, only been considered addictive rather than carcinogenic.
It is heavily used in smoking cessation products such as patches and gum.
It is also now found in the increasingly popular e-cigarette.
But, the latest in a series of studies about the carcinogenic qualities of nicotine revealed it causes a cell’s DNA to mutate.
The researchers found nicotine causes thousands of mutations called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in exposed cells, compared with control cells that are not exposed to it.
These patterns are similar to those identified in cells experiencing oxidative stress, which is a known precursor to cancer.
‘We now have a broad picture of genomic effects in nicotine,’ said Dr Jasmin Bavarva, lead author of the study.
Nicotine exposure causes thousands of mutations in a cell’s DNA and this could be a precursor to cancer
‘These results are important,’ said Dr Harold Garner, director of the institute’s Medical Informatics and Systems Division.
‘This is because for the first time they directly measure large numbers of genetic variations caused only by nicotine, showing that nicotine alone can mutate the genome and initiate a cancer state.
‘This is particularly timely since nicotine is used as a smoking cessation [aid].’
Future studies will now focus on understanding the effects of long-term exposure of nicotine.