Informing patients of the health risks related to smoking is a primary responsibility of dental professionals. Counseling female patients in regard to the cessation of smoking is particularly important, as it is recognized that female smokers are at a substantially higher risk for developing lung cancer than males. New light has been shed on this disparity by recent genetic research at Pennsylvania State University, implicating a specific gene involved in lung tissue development.
A research team led by Sharon Shriver, Ph.D., has isolated a gene that is remarkably active in female smokers. The gene, gastrin-releasing peptide receptor (GRPR), is critical in the juvenile development of respiratory tissues. Following lung development, the gene typically becomes less active in adults. In this study, the gene was entirely inactive in all male nonsmokers tested, and active in only 20 percent of male smokers tested. In comparison, GRPR was active in 75 percent of female smokers tested.
Of particular significance is the fact that the GRPR gene resides on the X chromosome -- so women possess two copies of the gene per cell, posing a much greater risk if the gene is activated. When active in an adult, gene expression results in abnormal cell growth in the respiratory tissues, which may manifest itself in the development of cancerous tissues.
It is presumed that chemical irritants in tobacco smoke trigger the expression of the gene. Statistically, the women studied had a 12-fold increased risk for developing lung cancer compared to female non-smokers. This is an additional reminder of the critical responsibility that dental practitioners have in their role as health providers to counsel their patients regarding systemic health issues.
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