Cancer risk? Use of e-cigarettes leads to changes in genes

Cancer risk? Use of e-cigarettes leads to changes in genes

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Impact of using e-cigarettes

The use of e-cigarettes (vaping) appears to contribute to important biological changes in DNA, which are also related to cigarette smoking. Such specific epigenetic changes can cause genes to malfunction.

The current study by the University of Southern California (USC) found that the use of e-cigarettes is associated with chemical changes in the entire genome and in parts of the DNA that also occur when smoking normal cigarettes. The results of the study were published in the English language journal "Epigenetics".

Changes in the entire genome and in parts of the DNA were found

Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California have identified similar chemical changes in their overall genome and parts of their DNA in people who use e-cigarettes as in people who smoke cigarettes.

Changes favor malfunction of the genes

These specific chemical changes, also known as epigenetic changes, can cause genes to malfunction. They are often found in almost all types of human cancer and other serious diseases.

Are e-cigarettes a safer alternative to smoking?

The use of e-cigarettes has increased significantly among young people in recent years. The results fit into a growing list of health concerns associated with vaping. The use of e-cigarettes is seen by many people as a safer alternative to smoking.

Participants were divided into three groups

For the study, a group of people was classified who were divided into three categories based on age, gender and race: people using e-cigarettes, smokers, and a control group of people who neither smoked nor used e-cigarettes.

Blood of the participants was examined

Blood was drawn from all participants and examined for changes in the concentration of two specific chemical labels on DNA that are known to affect gene activity and / or function. These chemical labels include: methyl groups in a specific DNA sequence called long, interspersed nucleotide element 1 (LINE-1) and hydroxymethyl groups in the entire genome.

Changes can indicate cancer

Changes in the amount of these chemical labels, which are important for genomic stability and the regulation of gene expression, occur at various stages of development as well as in diseases such as cancer.

Significant reduction in the values ​​of both chemical markings found

Both smokers and people using e-cigarettes showed a significant reduction in the values ​​of both chemical labels compared to the control group. This is the first study to demonstrate these biologically important changes in the blood cells of smokers and people using e-cigarettes.

Increased risk of cancer?

These effects did not automatically mean that affected people will develop cancer. But the same changes in chemical labels that can be detected in cancer patients' tumors can also be seen in people who use e-cigarettes or smoke.

People are exposed to carcinogenic substances through smoking and vaping

This is presumably to blame for the exposure to carcinogenic substances contained in cigarette smoke and, in much smaller quantities, in the vapor of electronic cigarettes.

Abnormal gene expression has been observed in a large number of genes

In a previous study, changes in gene expression in epithelial cells from the mouth of vapers and smokers were compared to a control group. In this study, both vapers and smokers showed abnormal gene expression in a large number of genes associated with cancer.

Abnormal gene expression found in vapers and smokers

The current study adds an important piece to this puzzle by showing that epigenetic mechanisms, especially changes in chemical labels attached to DNA, can contribute to abnormal gene expression in vapers and smokers alike, the researchers report.

More research is needed

The team plans to continue the research, with the next step being to examine the entire genome and identify all the genes that are targeted by these two chemical changes.

Results could have an impact on public health and politics

Given the established role that many genes play in human diseases, this study should provide information that could have an immediate impact on public health and politics. Scientific evidence is needed on which future regulations for the manufacture, marketing and distribution of electronic cigarettes could be based. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Andrew W. Caliri, Amanda Caceres, Stella Tommasi, Ahmad Besaratinia: Hypomethylation of LINE-1 repeat elements and global loss of DNA hydroxymethylation in vapers and smokers, in Epigenetics (published February 5, 2020), Epigenetics

Video: Is vaping healthier than smoking? (October 2022).