BLACKSBURG, Va. (CBS DC) – Researchers have discovered that products like the nicotine patch, may actually do more harm than good.

Virginia Bioinformatics Institute researchers found that using nicotine-infused smoking cessation products may not be the safest way to help people addicted to smoking quit the habit. They found that the carcinogenic qualities of nicotine used excessively mutates a cell’s DNA.

Harold “Skip” Garner, a professor of biological science, computer science, and basic science affiliated with the College of Science, the College of Engineering, and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, and geneticist Jasmin Bavarva discovered that nicotine causes thousands of mutations called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in exposed cells, compared with control cells that were not exposed, a press release detailed.

Those specific patterns are similar to those identified in cells experiencing oxidative stress, which is a known precursor to cancer.

“We now have a broad picture of genomic effects in nicotine,” Bavarva, lead author of both studies, explained.

“These results are important, because for the first time they directly measure large numbers of genetic variations caused only by nicotine, showing that nicotine alone can mutate the genome and initiate a cancer state. This is particularly timely since nicotine is used as a smoking cessation therapeutic,”  Garner, director of the institute’s Medical Informatics and Systems Division, shared.

The paper was published recently in the journal Oncotarget.