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A genetic factor is an inherited, unchangeable trait while a non-genetic factor is a variable in a person’s environment, which one can change. Some non-genetic factors play a role in facilitating the process of healthy cells turning cancerous while some cancers have no known environmental correlation but are known to have a genetic predisposition, meaning a person may be at higher risk for a certain cancer if a family member has that type of cancer.

Recently, attention has been focused on some non-genetic factors and their association with cancer such as diet, exercise, pollution and stress. Ongoing research continues to uncover environmental characteristics and/or exposures that may increase or decrease the risk of developing different types of cancer. Few cases of cancer have a causative association as clear as the one between smoking and lung cancer. However, lung cancer also occurs in individuals who have never smoked or who have quit smoking. A recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology evaluated characteristics in individuals who had developed lung cancer, although they had never smoked or had quit smoking for at least 10 years, in an effort to determine associative factors in the development of their cancer.

A positive relation was found between obesity, determined by a formula called body mass index, and an increased risk for developing lung cancer in both non-smokers and former smokers. The most obese persons had more than twice the risk of developing lung cancer compared to the leanest persons in this study. These results indicate that obesity may also increase the risk of developing lung cancer in persons who smoke. Results from studies such as these are important to help determine causative environmental factors in the development of certain cancers. The results of this study are consistent with results from previous studies that have shown obesity to increase the risk of persons developing a variety of cancers. (American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol 152, pp 506-513, 2000)

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