Buccal Cell Micronuclei among Betel Quid Chewers and Non-Betel Quid Chewers from Selected Barangays in Zamboanga City

Benkassar Abdurajak, Servando Halili Jr., Al-Zamzam Abubakar


Background. Betel quid chewing has been reported to have carcinogenic properties due to the presence of harmful compounds present in its ingredients. The oral mucosa is directly exposed to these carcinogenic compounds which could cause pathological changes and lead to malignancies. Micronucleus is a biomarker that indicates genetic alteration could form due to exposure from carcinogenic substances that can be attributed from betel quid chewing. Thus, a person’s oral health status can be gauged through the detection of micronucleus in buccal cells.

Objective. A cross-sectional study was done to compare the presence of micronuclei in buccal epithelial cells between betel quid chewers and non-betel quid chewers in Zamboanga City.

Methodology. Purposive sampling was used to enroll the 104 participants (52 betel quid chewers and 52 non-betel quid chewers). The demographic profiles and betel quid chewing habits of the participants were obtained using a questionnaire. Buccal cells samples were collected using clean and dry tongue depressors and were smeared directly onto pre-cleaned glass slides. Slides were processed for Papanicolaou staining by a medical technologist. For each slide, 1000 buccal cells were examined using a light microscope with an attached camera. Photomicrographs of buccal cells with micronuclei were taken. Two pathologists separately validated the results through the photomicrographs. Intraclass correlation coefficient for inter-rater reliability gave a value of 1 which indicates high reliability among observers.

Results. The median of the frequency of micronuclei among betel quid chewers and non-betel quid chewers were 56.5 and 36, respectively. Mann-Whitney U test revealed a significant difference (p=0.031) at α=0.05 in the Micronuclei frequency between the 2 groups. There were 36.5% of betel quid chewers who have Micronuclei frequency above the cut-off value and on the other hand, 15.4% among the non-betel quid chewers. Pearson’s correlation coefficient revealed that there was a very weak negative relationship (r=-0.072) between total Micronuclei frequency and length of time of betel quid exposure among the exposed group.

Conclusion. Betel-quid chewers have significantly higher frequency of micronuclei compared to non-betel quid chewers which puts them at higher risk for developing oral malignancies.


micronucleus, betel, quid, Areca, Papanicolaou

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