Exposure to tobacco carcinogens is the major cause of human lung cancer, but even heavy smokers have only about a 10% life-time risk of developing lung cancer. Currently used screening processes, based largely on age and exposure status, have proven to be of limited clinical utility in predicting cancer risk. More precise methods of assessing an individual's risk of developing lung cancer are needed. Because of their sensitivity to DNA damage, microsatellites are potentially useful for the assessment of somatic mutational load in normal cells. We assessed mutational load using hypermutable microsatellites in buccal cells obtained from lung carcinoma cases and controls to test if such a measure could be used to estimate lung cancer risk. There was no significant association between smoking status and mutation frequency with any of the markers tested. No significant association between case status and mutation frequency was observed. Age was significantly related to mutation frequency in the microsatellite marker D7S1482. These observations indicate that somatic mutational load, as measured using mutation frequency of microsatellites in buccal cells, increases with increasing age but that subjects who develop lung cancer have a similar mutational load as those who remain cancer free. This finding suggests that mutation frequency of microsatellite mutations in buccal cells may not be a promising biomarker for lung cancer risk.
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