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Quitting Smoking May Be Easier For Some

by Jennifer Wider, MD

(Washington DC, 10/24/03):  Kicking the habit of smoking may be easier for people with a certain combination of genes, according to a new study published in the September 2003 issue of Health Psychology. Researchers from the Tobacco Use Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania used a prospective clinical trial to examine the role of specific genes in the response to treatment for smoking cessation.

Genetic analysis of blood samples from more than four hundred smokers of European ancestry was performed, as participants were treated with bupropion, a smoking cessation drug, or a placebo. The researchers discovered that genes that are involved in the function of dopamine may play a role in smoking cessation and relapse.

People who express certain versions of these particular genes were more likely to remain abstinent and less likely to relapse while trying to quit smoking, according to the study results. Caryn Lerman, Ph.D, lead researcher and professor in the department of Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Pennsylvania discusses the results of the study: "There were no gender differences. There were differences between ethnic groups in the particular variants, but the significance of these differences is unclear."

Smoking is a wide-spread problem. According to the National Cancer Institute, cigarette use is responsible for roughly one-third of all cancer deaths in the United States. Smoking cigarettes is the number one risk factor for lung cancer. Because lung cancer is the most common type of cancer in women in the United States, the use of tobacco is the most avoidable cause of death for this segment of the population.

The number of women who die each year from smoking tobacco has increased over the last decades, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The surgeon general issued a report in March 2003 that cited an epidemic among women with smoking-related diseases.

The risk of developing cancer and other illnesses related to smoking depends on several factors. The number of years a person has smoked, the number of cigarettes per day, the age at which a person started the habit and the presence of illness at the time a person stops smoking all effect the chance of developing cancer or other smoking-related diseases.

Women who smoke face unique barriers to quitting. Women experience more severe withdrawal symptoms than men and they are less likely to benefit from nicotine replacement therapy. Women who quit smoking also relapse for different reasons than men. Stress, weight control, and negative emotions are cited by women as reasons for relapse.

The study led by Dr. Lerman, however, provides some hope for people trying to kick the habit of smoking. Drugs that interact with dopamine receptors may become available in the future. "The development of drugs that target the dopamine system is an active area of research," Lerman said.

There are many benefits to smoking cessation. Studies have shown that after ten to fifteen years, a former smoker's risk of tobacco-related death comes very close to a non-smoker's risk, according to the National Cancer Institute. The risk of lung cancer decreases significantly, and continues to drop the longer a person refrains from smoking. Circulation and blood pressure improve and the risk of lung and heart disease decreases as well. Women who quit smoking before pregnancy can dramatically reduce the risk of prematurity and low birth weight in their newborns.

While the results of the study seem promising, Dr. Lerman points out the need for ongoing clinical trials. "These findings should be considered preliminary until validated in future research."

The Society for Women's Health Research is the nation's only not-for-profit organization whose sole mission is to improve the health of women through research. Founded in 1990, the Society brought to national attention the need for the appropriate inclusion of women in major medical research studies and the resulting need for more information about conditions affecting women. The Society advocates increased funding for research on women's health, encourages the study of sex differences that may affect the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease, and promotes the inclusion of women in medical research studies. Dr. Donnica Moore has been a member of the Society since 1990 and is a past member of its Board of Directors.

Created: 10/24/2003  -  Jennifer Wider, M.D.
Reviewed: 10/28/2004  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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