Vaping Now Linked to Cancer? A Recent Study Linking Lung Cancer to Mice Suggests A Possibility
Researchers in a recent study earlier this month found that exposure to e-cigarettes caused lung and bladder cancer in mice. While there is still more research to be done, this is the first study to tie vaping to cancer.
As the vaping epidemic continues to unfold and researchers continue to link certain substances to lung illnesses, a recent study by New York University tested nicotine e-cigarette vapor on mice. The results were alarming—and cancerous.
The researchers make it clear: mice are not humans. However, after a handful of mice did develop cancer after exposure to nicotine e-cigarettes, this study has proven to be the first to definitely link vaping nicotine to cancer. Leading researchers conclude that vaping is likely “very harmful” to humans as well.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the study was published Oct. 7 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The amount of smoke the mice were exposed to was similar to a person who’s vaped for about three to six years, said Tang, a professor at the NYU School of Medicine.
The study found that e-cigarette vapor caused notable DNA damage in the mice’s lungs and bladders, and it “inhibits DNA repair in lung tissues.” Out of 40 mice exposed to e-cigarette vapor with nicotine over a period of 54 weeks, 22.5 percent developed lung cancer and 57.5 percent developed precancerous lesions on the bladder.
Given this, why do the researchers suspect the nicotine is contributing to the cancer? Researchers exposed 20 mice with e-cigarette smoke that did not contain nicotine, and after four years of observing the mice, none of them developed cancer.
That’s “statistically very significant,” said Tang.
Similar studies have not been that far off from the NYU one. A study by the University of Southern California in February found that e-cigarette users developed some of the same molecular changes in oral tissue that cause cancer in cigarette smokers. The study was published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.
Researchers did note the study’s limitations: the mice did not inhale the vapor as deeply as a human would, for instance. Also, the study was conducted on a small number of mice that were more likely to develop cancer over their lifetime, researchers noted.
The recent scrutiny of vapes and e-cigarettes has helped U.S. health officials trace the outbreak of lung disease to vaping, mostly THC, the active compound found in marijuana. However, some of the more than 1,000 victims who have fallen ill report having only used vapes with nicotine. Doctors say they can’t disregard any compound as contributing to the outbreak.
To make the debate more complicated, though, is the difficulty in knowing exactly the differences in health risks when comparing cigarettes with e-cigarettes, vape products, and juuls. After all, e-cigarettes companies and Juul have long claimed their products are significantly safer than cigarettes.
There are differing stances on these claims, though. According to a CNBC article, Tang said, “Young kids think it’s safer. But it will cause cancer in mice.”
Tony Abboud, executive director of the Vapor Technology Association, begged to disagree. He cited a 2015 study by Public Health England that found e-cigarettes to be “at least 95 percent safer” than traditional cigarettes. He also cited a 2016 report by British doctor’s group the Royal College of Physicians that said the harm caused by e-cigarettes equated to about 5 percent “of the burden caused by tobacco smoking.”
Linda Cuthbertson, spokeswoman for the Royal College of Physicians, said “elements of our reports and statements have been used in isolation.” The report cited by Abboud said e-cigarettes, while less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, may still be more hazardous than other forms of nicotine replacement since the industry isn’t uniformly regulated and manufacturing varies, she noted. For more details on this study from Royal College of Physicians and the other potential factors to the findings, see the CNBC article.
While the NYU study has limitations and only focuses on mice, that is not to say it does not present notable results. In fact, it’s the first to link vaping products to cancer. That is surely not something to overlook.