Tobacco Replacement Products Linked to Mouth Cancer

Nicotine-containing tobacco replacement products might be linked to <"">mouth and throat cancers, according to a new study. The Scotsman reported that nicotine chewing gums and lozenges, meant to help consumers quit smoking via nicotine doses, might also be creating the potential for these cancers.

Tobacco is the addictive component in cigarettes and has long been excluded from cancer and heart disease concerns. Because of this, said The Guardian, quit smoking products, such as nicotine patches, inhalers, and chewing gum, have been geared to tapering the nicotine addiction without including the dangerous tar and other carcinogens.

The research was funded by the Medical Research Council and published in the journal PLoS ONE, said the Scotsman, noting that experts in the field are saying that consumers should not stop using nicotine replacement therapies to quit smoking because nicotine—unlike tar and carbon monoxide—has not been definitively linked to cancer or heart disease and is presumed safer than cigarettes, which have been linked to cancers.

The research looked at how head and neck cancers develop, specifically at the gene critical to cell division and reproduction, which is also known to cause a variety of cancers when mutated, said The Guardian. The researchers studied the cells in healthy people and in those with various stages of head and neck cancers while also looking at how tobacco and the betel nut—which is chewed in areas in Asia instead of tobacco—impacted the mutated gene.

The Scotsman said the researchers from the Institute of Dentistry, Queen Mary University London, studied the gene called FOXM1, which is found in early stages of mouth cancer and thought to play a part in initial stages of head and neck cancers, said The Guardian. This means, it explained, that nicotine may be involved certain cancer development when the FOXM1 gene has mutated. Mail Online pointed out the risk for cancer seems to be present if the nicotine replacement products are used long term.

The study was led by University of London scientist Muy-Teck The, said Mail Online, and analyzed 75 patients. The study found FOZM1 gene mutations were likelier with the use of nicotine replacement products, most particularly when an oral lesion was already present, said Mail Online. “This study cautions the potential co-carcinogenic effect of nicotine in tobacco replacement therapies…. Although we acknowledge the importance of encouraging people to quit smoking, our research suggests nicotine found in lozenges and chewing gums may increase the risk of mouth cancer,” said Dr. The, quoted Mail Online.

The Guardian faulted the study saying it looked at skin samples in a laboratory environment and not at people using nicotine replacement products, but did note that researchers found that nicotine, not the betel nut, increased FOXM1’s activity, which increases the rate of cancer cells. Mail Online noted that tobacco cessation products typically advise against long-term use; however, many ex-smokers tend to rely on the products for years. An issue of some concern since the researchers concluded that if a person had a mutated gene present in his/her mouth, use of nicotine replacement products could potentially increase FOXM1’s activity.

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