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Radioactive particles in cigarette smoke cause lung cancer

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By David Liu, PHD

Saturday Sept 8, 2012 (foodconsumer.org) -- At least 70 chemicals in cigarette smoke can cause lung cancer including benzene, formaldehyde, acetone, tar, nicotine, arsenic and hydrogen cyanide.  But a new study most recently published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research reveals that a major cause of the deadly disease is a type of radioactive particles.

Hrayr S. Karagueuzian, Ph.D. of David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California Los Angeles and colleagues, authors of the study, say cigarette smoke contains radioactive polonium 210 (210 Po) and regular smokers can accumulate enough of the alpha particles to boost their risk for lung cancer.

From the major tobacco industries' once internal secret documents on cigarette radioactivity made available online by the Master Settlement Agreement in 1998, the researchers found the industry was not only aware of the presence of the radioactive particles, but also had an estimation on the potential cancerous growth in the lungs or lung cancer in regular smokers due to the long term (25 years) lung radiation adsorption dose (rad) of the ionizing alpha particles emitted from cigarette smoke.

The authors calculated the radiation exposure from the radioactive particles in cigarette smoke and found their estimation was the same as what the industry found.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the estimate of long term lung exposure to alpha particles was associated with 120 to 138 lung cancer deaths per year per 1,000 regular smokers.  That is, 1.2 to 1.38 persons out of 100 regular smokers die each year due to the exposure to ionizing radioactive particles emitted from cigarette smoke.

The authors say the radioactive particles can be easily removed using a method called acid wash discovered in 1980 and much of the lung cancer induced by the radiation could be otherwise avoided.  But the industry refused to acid wash tobacco leaves because of concerns that acid would change nicotine into a form that is not as easily as nicotine to be absorbed to cause instant "nicotine kick" sensation.

The researchers concluded "The evidence of lung cancer risk caused by cigarette smoke radioactivity is compelling enough to warrant its removal."

Lung Cancer Facts:  Lung cancer is a major killer in the United States.  An estimated 226,160 men and women are expected to be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2012.  Lung cancer prognosis or survival is poor and the disease and its complication or treatment are expected to kill 160,340 in 2012 in the same country, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Lung Cancer Risk Factors:  Lung cancer can be caused by many things, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Tobacco smoking and secondhand smoke, exposure to radon, asbestos, arsenic, diesel exhaust, and some forms of silica and chromium, family history of the disease, radiation therapy to the chest, exposure to beta-carotene supplements, arsenic in drinking water can all increase the risk of the disease.

Lung Cancer Symptoms:  Early lung cancer does not cause signs or symptoms.  When symptoms show up, the disease is in an advanced stage already.  Lung cancer symptoms include persistent dry cough, breathing trouble, constant chest pain, coughing up blood, a hoarse voice, frequent lung infection, feeling very tired all the time, and weight loss without a known cause.15

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