Lungs have the ability to repair themselves, but only if a person stops smoking, new research suggests. It had previously been thought that the mutations that lead to lung cancer were permanent and smokers had already done irreparable damage with their habits. However, the surprise findings, published in the journal Nature, show that some cells escape the damage caused by smoking and can actually help repair the cells around them once a person has quit. This almost magical ability was witnessed by scientists from the Wellcome Sanger Institute and UCL even in people who had smoked a pack a day for 40 years before giving up – highlighting that it’s really never too late to quit. Exactly how certain cells avoid the genetic devastation caused by smoking is unclear, but the researchers said they appeared to “exist in a nuclear bunker”. Speaking about the findings of the research, Dr Rachel Orritt, from Cancer Research UK, said: “It's a really motivating idea that people who stop smoking might reap the benefits twice over - by preventing more tobacco-related damage to lung cells, and by giving their lungs the chance to balance out some of the existing damage with healthier cells”. It is estimated that of the 47,000 cases of lung cancer in the UK each year, almost three-quarters are caused by smoking.
Just one cigarette a day can increase a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke, a study has found, dispelling the myth that cutting back, not quitting altogether, can eliminate health issues. The study found that just one cigarette a day can increase a person’s chances of heart disease by about 50% and chances of a stroke by 30% than people who have never smoked. The bottom line is that there is no safe level of smoking when it comes to heart disease and stroke. Cardiovascular disease, not cancer, remains the greatest mortality risk for smokers, accounting for approximately 48% of smoking-related premature deaths. And while the number of people who smoke in the UK has been falling, the percentage of people smoking one to five cigarettes a day has been steadily rising, researchers said. However, cutting down on cigarettes is always a good start and people who do so are more likely to quit in the long-run. Prof Allan Hackshaw from the UCL Cancer Institute at University College London, who led the study, said: "There's been a trend in quite a few countries for heavy smokers to cut down, thinking that's perfectly fine, which is the case for things like cancer. "But for these two common disorders, which they're probably more likely to get than cancer, it's not the case. They've got to stop completely." For the study, the researchers at UCL analysed data from 141 separate smoking-related studies and published their findings in the BMJ.
A study of 582 people, conducted in Europe and the US, has found that Nivolumab leaves cancer cells open to attack from the body’s immune system by preventing them from being able to hide. Lung cancer kills almost 1.6 million people worldwide every year and is particularly difficult to treat as it is usually diagnosed late and sufferers often have other smoking-related diseases which make them unsuitable for surgery. The trial involved patients who had advanced lung cancer and had already tried other treatments. Individuals who were on standard therapy at this stage lived for another 9.4 months, but those being treated with Nivolumab lived for an average of 12.2 months. However, patients whose tumours were producing high levels of PD-L1 – a protein that inhibits the body’s natural defences – lived for another 19.4 months after taking Nivolumab. The study’s lead researcher, Dr Luis Paz-Ares from the Hospital Universitario Doce de Octubre in Madrid, Spain, said: "[The results] mark a milestone in the development of new treatment options for lung cancer." The data was presented by pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb to the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the findings were described as "giving real hope to patients". Cancer Research UK welcomed the results of the study and said that harnessing the power of the body’s immune system would be an "essential part" of cancer treatment. Photo credit: Phys.org