Monthly Archives: August 2013

Menthol cigarettes – what’s the big deal ?

By Thomas J. Glynn, PhD


The discussion around whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should keep or ban menthol-flavored cigarettes has produced a number of news headlines in recent weeks, because in July the agency released a report reviewing current science around these cigarettes. This science will inform many of the decisions the agency may make about menthol cigarettes, and the millions of current and potential smokers who will be affected by those decisions. But the menthol story goes back much further than just the past few weeks.

Menthol and cigarettes: a brief history

Menthol is an organic compound which can be made in a laboratory or derived from mint oils, and has a distinctive and, for most people, pleasant odor and taste. It is used to enhance the flavor, popularity, and ease-of-use of many food products, candies, and medications.

As a medication, it can be used as a mild local anesthetic, counter-irritant, and, more specifically, for the relief of minor throat irritation. That is why menthol was first introduced in cigarettes in the 1920’s and gained broader popularity with the introduction of a filtered menthol brand, Salem, in the mid-1950’s.

Over the years, largely because they mask the harsh taste and/or throat-irritating properties of inhaled tobacco smoke, mentholated cigarettes have gained a wide audience, such that about 30% of all 44 million smokers in the U.S.… Continue reading →

New cancer genes: should I run to be tested?

By Mia M. Gaudet, PhD

Scientists have long cautioned that a family history of cancer increases your personal risk of cancer. Some genetic changes (mutations) that are found in only a few families but tremendously increase risk of cancer (e.g., BRCA1/2) have been known since the 1990s.  These mutations are already used by doctors to identify high risk men and women. However, there is still much of the genetic component of cancer that is unknown. Advances in genetics and technology now allow scientists to look at common changes in the genetic code to see if these changes are related to risk of cancer. 

Researchers are trying to answer these questions. Recently, an international group of cancer investigators linked 74 genetic regions to cancer. These newly identified genetic regions contain common changes in their code (called polymorphisms) that have only small effects on the risk of cancer. But when you combine many polymorphisms, that risk increases.

These new polymorphisms were found by studying the genetic make-up of more than 200,000 people. Women with and without breast cancer, women who had mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2, women with and without ovarian cancer, and men with and without prostate cancer participated in the studies.… Continue reading →