A new study from researchers at the University College London and elsewhere has found that exposure to carcinogens like cigarette smoke leads to epigenetic changes that could act as a sort of warning sign for cancer, LiveScience reports.
As they report in JAMA Oncology, the researchers performed an epigenome-wide association study examining methylation changes at more than 480,000 CpG sites in buccal samples from 790 women and in matched blood samples from 152 women. In their discovery set of 400 women, the researchers uncovered 1,501 CpG sites associated with smoking, which they validated in a further 390 women. They also noted that cheek cells were better exhibitors of these epigenetic changes than blood cells.
"Our work shows that smoking has a major impact on the epigenome of normal cells that are directly exposed to the carcinogen," says UCL's Andrew Teschendorff in a statement.
LiveScience adds this epigenetic signature could lead to ways to predict people's risk of disease or gauge whether a pre-cancerous lesion will progress to a malignancy as these epigenetic changes are also found in epithelial cancers.