November 3, 2016

Study Shows How Smoking Causes the Changes that Lead to Lung Cancer

By msequeira
New study finds smokers accumulate 150 extra genetic changes in every lung cell for each year of smoking one packet of cigarettes per day


A paper published today in Science shows that smoking tobacco causes added mutations in the DNA of lung cells and in the DNA of other cells in the body. This is the first study to show the process by which smoking causes these cancers.


Mutations are changes in DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid. DNA is the genetic code that governs how a cell carries out its tasks. Cancer results when DNA mutations disturb how certain genes function.

This study looked at the DNA changes in the cancers of more than 5,000 patients.  The researchers compared tumor cells from people who smoked with tumor cells from people who never smoked. They found that smokers’ tumor cells had more mutations than nonsmokers’ tumor cells for almost every type of cell they tested. The researchers were able to estimate the number of mutations caused by smoking a pack of cigarettes per day for a year: every smokers’ lung cell amassed, on average, 150 additional mutations.

Previous studies have shown a strong link between smoking and lung cancer and a link between smoking and other types of cancers. But until now, these studies did not show how smoking caused the cellular changes that led to cancer.


The lead co-authors of the paper are Ludmil Alexandrov, PhD, and Sir Michael Stratton, PhD, FMedSci, FRS.

Alexandrov is an Oppenheimer Fellow in the Theoretical Biology and Biophysics Group at Los Alamos National Laboratories and a full member of the Cancer Genetics, Epigenetics and Genomics Research Group at The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Stratton is the Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and Chief Executive Officer of the Wellcome Genome Campus. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) and was Knighted by the Queen in 2013.


The paper, “Mutational signatures associated with tobacco smoking in human cancer,” was published in the November 3, 2016, online edition of Science.


Dorothy Hornbeck, JKPR, 505-340-5929,
Michele Sequeira, UNM Cancer Center, 505-925-0486,


About the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center

The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center is the Official Cancer Center of New Mexico and the only National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center in a 500-mile radius. Its 125 board-certified oncology specialty physicians include cancer surgeons in every specialty (abdominal, thoracic, bone and soft tissue, neurosurgery, genitourinary, gynecology, and head and neck cancers), adult and pediatric hematologists/medical oncologists, gynecologic oncologists, and radiation oncologists. They, along with more than 500 other cancer healthcare professionals (nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists, navigators, psychologists and social workers), provided cancer care for nearly 60 percent of the adults and children in New Mexico affected by cancer. They treated 11,249 patients in 84,875 ambulatory clinic visits in addition to in-patient hospitalizations at UNM Hospital. These patients came from every county in the State. More than 12 percent of these patients participated in cancer clinical trials testing new cancer treatments and 35 percent of patients participated in other clinical research studies, including tests of novel cancer prevention strategies and cancer genome sequencing. The 130 cancer research scientists affiliated with the UNMCCC were awarded almost $60 million in federal and private grants and contracts for cancer research projects and published 301 high quality publications. Promoting economic development, they filed more than 30 new patents in FY16, and since 2010, have launched 11 new biotechnology start-up companies. Scientists associated with the UNMCCC Cancer Control & Disparities have conducted more than 60 statewide community-based cancer education, prevention, screening, and behavioral intervention studies involving more than 10,000 New Mexicans. Finally, the physicians, scientists and staff have provided education and training experiences to more than 230 high school, undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral fellowship students in cancer research and cancer health care delivery. Learn more at

UNM Cancer Center contact information

Dorothy Hornbeck, JKPR, 505-340-5929,
Michele Sequeira, UNM Cancer Center, 505-925-0486,


Tags: advanced lung cancer, General Lung Cancer, Lung Cancer, Press Release Archive 2016