December 5, 2014 1:11 pm

Why smoking is especially bad for men, their health and genetics

A person smokes in downtown Ottawa on Sept. 29, 2009.

Pawel Dwulit/The Canadian Press

PARIS – Scientists say they think they know why men tend to develop and die from cancers more so than women: male smokers are more likely to lose the Y chromosome in their blood cells, which may explain their increased risk for cancer.

Smoking is a risk factor for a plethora of diseases – cancer, heart disease, stroke and bronchitis, as prime examples. Male smokers tend to have a greater risk of developing cancer than their female counterparts, though.

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In previous research, Swedish researchers at Uppsala University discovered a link between the loss of the Y chromosome and cancer. Only men have the Y chromosome. It’s what’s important for producing sperm and sex determination.  (Men have the X and Y chromosomes while women have two X chromosomes.)

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The researchers suggest that smoking could be to blame in killing Y chromosomes in their blood cells. Ultimately, smoking could be what’s putting men at risk of developing cancer. They’re already at a greater risk of developing cancers outside of the respiratory tract than women who smoke.

“Out of a large number of factors that were studied, such as age, blood pressure, diabetes, alcohol intake and smoking, we found that loss of the Y chromosome in a fraction of the blood cells was more common in smokers than in non-smokers,” Lars Forsberg, an Uppsala University researcher, said.

But if men kicked their habit of lighting up, they’d regain their levels of Y chromosomes so that they were the same as their peers who hadn’t taken up smoking at all.

This could be an incentive to butt out, the researchers say.

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“This process might be reversible…This discovery could be very persuasive for motivating smokers to quit,” Forsberg said.

The Swedish research is based on the health data of more than 6,000 men who took part in a series of other studies.

The loss of the Y chromosome was dependent on a man’s reliance on tobacco. The more he smoked, the higher his loss of the Y chromosome. It’s still unclear why smoking eats away at this part of a man’s DNA and how its lacking is linked to developing cancer.

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They suggest that maybe the lack of the Y chromosome weakens a cancer patient’s chances at fighting cancer.

The study was published in the journal Science.

© 2014 Shaw Media

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