The researchers present the study, published in the journal of Clinical Cancer Research, at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting on April 6 in San Diego. The scientists described how they took human bronchial cells and grew some in an environment with e-cigarette vapor and some in an environment with cigarette smoke.
The results showed that the two batches of cells showed a similar pattern of gene expression, meaning they could cause similar damage to the cells resulting in mutations that could cause cancer.
"There are some striking similarities," said study researcher Avrum Spira of Boston University.
Spira said they are not identical but the research team is now evaluating whether the alterations will cause the cells to behave more like cancer cells in culture. They cannot say for sure whether the e-cigarettes cause cancer until the research is complete but their findings suggest they are not perfectly safe as some proponents claim.
"They may be safer [than tobacco], but our preliminary studies suggest that they may not be benign."
E-cigarettes have been the center of a much heated debate, with several cities and states trying to make the sale of e-cigarettes to minors illegal and prohibit their use in certain public areas. There are no current federal regulations on e-cigarettes, but there is also very little known about them. Lawmakers are expected to evaluate the issue as research on the devices advances.
[Journal of Clinical Cancer Research]