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Test Spots Genetic Damage Done by Smoking
Date:9/5/2007

n of the study participants had already been diagnosed with lung cancer, 43 were considered at high-risk for the disease because they were smokers, and another 14 people were healthy men and women who'd never smoked.

Chromosomal abnormalities were found in 100 percent of the cancer patients and 82 percent of the high-risk smokers.

The researchers also established a so-called chromosomal abnormality index (CAI) to illustrate the extent of genetic damage. They found that while non-smokers had CAI readings of less than 1 percent, high-risk smokers had reading above 10 percent, and cancer patients topped 15 percent.

The researchers said it's not yet known when such potential genetic "markers" for future lung cancer develop or what constitutes the initial "genetic hit" that triggers chromosomal changes.

Still, they were able to identify four chromosomes -- numbers 5, 7, 8, and 18 -- that were most often affected among both cancer patients and the high-risk smokers.

Franklin emphasized that the technology his team used would not be practical for widespread medical use outside of a research setting. But he said he hoped the study is a "small step" forward in the effort to develop widely available screening options that could offer patients at risk of lung cancer a chance at earlier and more effective treatment.

"Ultimately, the point is to identify those patients who are likely to go on to get cancer before they get it," he said. "And, ultimately, we'd like to develop chemo prevention drugs that would target these high-risk individuals."

Franklin said he expects a biomarker screening technique for lung cancer to be available in the "not too distant future."

Dr. Timothy Winton, an associate professor of surgery and division director of thoracic surgery at the University of Alberta and the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, Canada, called the new study a "very interesting" effort to harn
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