Study Explores Frequency of Lung Cancer in Never-Smokers

Study Explores Frequency of Lung Cancer in Never-Smokers

Among individuals who have never smoked, lung cancer will develop in roughly 17 per 100,000 men and 15 per 100,000 women each year. These results were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. Each year lung cancer kills more people than breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer combined. Although a majority of these deaths are caused by smoking, 10%-15% occur among individuals who never smoked. Because few studies have focused on trends in lung cancer mortality in never-smokers, it is uncertain how risk has changed over time, and whether certain groups are at higher risk than others.

To describe the frequency of lung cancer deaths among never-smokers, researchers evaluated information from two American Cancer Society studies: the Cancer Prevention Study I (CPS I) and the Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS II). CPS I was conducted between 1959 and 1972 and CPS II was conducted between 1982 and 2000. These studies included a total of 940,000 adults who reported no history of smoking at the time of study enrollment.

  • Among men, there were 17.1 lung cancer deaths per 100,000 people each year.
  • Among women, there were 14.7 lung cancer deaths per 100,000 people each year.
  • The lung cancer death rate was higher in African-American women than in white women.
  • There was some suggestion of an increase over time in lung cancer mortality among women, but only among women between the ages of 70 and 84.

The researchers conclude that “Contrary to clinical perception, the lung cancer death rate is not higher in female than in male never-smokers and shows little evidence of having increased over time in the absence of smoking.” The researchers also note that their findings “suggest that never-smoking African American women, and possibly African American men, may have higher lung cancer mortality than never-smoking whites. Possible explanations for this difference include a greater number of lung cancer diagnoses in African Americans, worse survival among African Americans, or greater diagnostic error in African Americans.

Reference: Thun MJ, Henley J, Burns D et al. Lung Cancer Death Rates in Lifelong Nonsmokers. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2006;98:691-9.

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