Vaping Could Raise Risk of Cancer, Study Finds

Vaping could alter an e-cigarette smoker’s DNA and raise their risk of developing cancer, a study has suggested.

To carry out their preliminary study, scientists from the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota recruited five e-cigarette users, and collected samples of their saliva before and after they vaped for 15 minutes. The team then studied the saliva for chemicals that are believed to damage DNA.

After vaping, the participants’ saliva contained higher levels of formaldehyde, acrolein and methylglyoxal: three compounds that damage DNA.

vaping-ecigarette-stock Vaping has been linked to a higher risk of developing cancer in a study. Getty Images

Compared with the saliva of those who didn't use e-cigarettes, four of five e-cigarette users in the study had higher levels of a type of damage called 'DNA adduct.' linked to acrolein. This happens when toxic chemicals, like acrolein, interact with DNA. If the cell is not able to fix the damage to enable and let the DNA replicate as normal, cancer can develop.

Dr. Romel Dator, co-author of the study and post-doctoral associate at the Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota, said in a statement: "E-cigarettes are a popular trend, but the long-term health effects are unknown.

"We want to characterize the chemicals that vapers are exposed to, as well as any DNA damage they may cause,” said Dator, who presented the findings at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

But that doesn't mean vapers should reach for traditional cigarettes instead, Dr Silvia Balbo, lead author of the study, suggested. She said: "It's clear that more carcinogens arise from the combustion of tobacco in regular cigarettes than from the vapor of e-cigarettes.

Read more: Is vaping safe? E-cigarettes could damage important lung cells that fight bacteria: study

"However, we don't really know the impact of inhaling the combination of compounds produced by this device. Just because the threats are different doesn't mean that e-cigarettes are completely safe."

The researchers acknowledged their study was a small, preliminary piece of research and more work is needed to definitively answer whether or not vaping causes cancer.

"We still don't know exactly what these e-cigarette devices are doing and what kinds of effects they may have on health, but our findings suggest that a closer look is warranted,” said Balbo.

The research is the latest to question the safety of vaping. Last week, research published in the journal Thorax indicated using e-cigarettes could cause inflammation and damage important lung immune cells.

Dr. David Thickett, professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Birmingham and lead author of the study, said in a podcast on the study that while e-cigarettes seem safer than traditional cigarettes, they may still raise the risk of harm long-term. 

"I don't believe e-cigarettes are more harmful than ordinary cigarettes," he continued. "But we should have a cautious skepticism that they are as safe as we are being led to believe."

Commenting on the risks associated with e-cigarette use, Emma Shields, health information manager at the charity Cancer Research UK, told Newsweek: “Overall, the evidence so far shows e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking. The most important thing to compare is the differences between vapers and tobacco cigarette users, which this study lacks. Ongoing research is important to monitor the long-term safety of e-cigarettes, but any potential risks are likely to be far outweighed by the well-established harms of tobacco."

The best thing a smoker can do for their health is stopping, she said, adding: "E-cigarettes are just one option for quitting." 

This article has been updated with comment from Emma Shields.

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