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These chemical alterations -- called epigenetic changes -- can cause genes to malfunction. They are found in nearly all types of cancer, as well as other serious diseases, the researchers noted.
"That doesn't mean that these people are going to develop cancer," said study leader Ahmad Besaratinia, an associate professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles.
"But what we are seeing is that the same changes in chemical tags detectable in tumors from cancer patients are also found in people who vape or smoke, presumably due to exposure to cancer-causing chemicals present in cigarette smoke and, generally at much lower levels, in electronic cigarettes' vapor," he said in a school news release.
Besaratinia and his colleagues said their findings add to a growing list of health issues linked to e-cigarettes.
The study included 45 people who either vaped only, smoked cigarettes only, or did not vape or smoke (control group).
Blood samples were tested for changes in two specific chemical tags attached to DNA that are important for proper gene activity and/or function. Changes in levels of these chemical tags occur at various ages and in diseases such as cancer.
Compared to the control group, vapers and smokers both had significant reductions in both chemical tags. The authors said this is the first study to show that these changes can be detected in vapers' blood, just as in smokers.
Researchers now plan to identify all the genes affected by these chemical changes in vapers, compared to smokers. Besaratinia said the study could have immediate public policy implications.
"The epidemic of teen vaping and the recent outbreak of vaping-related severe lung injury and deaths in the U.S. underscore the importance of generating scientific evidence on which future regulations for electronic cigarette manufacturing, marketing, and distribution can be based," he said.
The study was published online recently in the journal Epigenetics.
-- Robert Preidt
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