Lung cancer death rates among never smokers higher in men than women

September 9, 2008

A new American Cancer Society study sheds light on the ten to fifteen percent of lung cancers that are caused by factors other than tobacco smoking. The study analyzed data on lung cancer occurrence among lifelong nonsmokers in North America, Europe, and Asia and found that lung cancer death rates among never-smokers are highest among men, African Americans, and Asians residing in Asia.

The review, the largest to date of lifelong nonsmokers, also suggests that the death rates among never-smokers have remained stable over the past several decades. It appears in the September issue of PLoS Medicine, a peer-reviewed, open-access journal published by the Public Library of Science.

While the great majority of lung cancers are related to smoking, approximately 16,000 to 24,000 lung cancer deaths each year are due to other factors. For comparison, if lung cancers not caused by smoking were considered a separate category, it would rank among the seven to nine most common fatal cancers in the U.S. The researchers say as the number of never-smokers in the U.S. and other developed countries is increasing, this is a subject of particular interest and importance.

To examine the issue, researchers led by Michael J. Thun, M.D. pooled data on lung cancer incidence and death rates among self-reported never-smokers from 13 large cohort studies based in North America, Europe, and Asia that spanned the time period from 1960 to 2004. The pooled data represented hundreds of thousands of individuals (over 630,000 for the incidence data and 1.8 million for the mortality data). The researchers also abstracted data for women from 22 cancer registries in 10 countries in time periods and regions where the smoking prevalence among women was known to be low.

The researchers found that the incidence of lung cancer among lifelong nonsmokers was about equal to that of brain and other nervous system cancers. In terms of mortality, men who reported never smoking had a 1.1% risk of dying from lung cancer before age 85, with the corresponding estimate for women slightly lower at 0.8%. These mortality risks compare to estimates of 22.1% and 11.9% risk of dying from lung cancer for male and female current cigarette smokers, respectively.

While they lacked information on lung cancer death rates among Hispanic, Native American, and Asian never-smokers in North America, researchers did find evidence that lung cancer incidence and mortality are higher in African Americans and Asians residing in Asia than among those of European descent who have never smoked.

The report also found no indication that lung cancer rates have changed among lifelong nonsmokers in the U.S. since the 1930s, failing to support assertions by other researchers that lung cancer risk has increased substantially in the United States in lifelong nonsmokers. Still, they point out the importance of the disease among non-smokers. "Lung cancer is obviously a significant public health and medical problem, even beyond the overwhelming disease burden caused by tobacco smoking," the researchers conclude.

Citation: Thun MJ, Hannan LM, Adams-Campbell LL, Boffetta P, Buring JE, et al. (2008) Lung cancer occurrence in never-smokers. PLoS Med 5(9): e185. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0050185 medicine.plosjournals.org/perl … journal.pmed.0050185

Source: American Cancer Society

Explore further: What to expect from lung cancer surgery

Related Stories

What to expect from lung cancer surgery

November 16, 2017
Surgery remains the primary treatment for early-stage lung cancer, and most commonly that means a procedure called lobectomy, which removes about one-third to one-half of the lung with the tumor.

Researchers show growth hormone signalling increases cancer risk

October 26, 2017
University of Queensland researchers have unravelled the cellular process which may help to explain why tall people are at increased risk of several types of cancer.

Process used to select lung transplant patients may need to be changed: study

November 14, 2017
With a limited number of lungs available, deciding who gets a transplant can be a matter of life or death. New research from the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) suggests that the system for choosing transplant ...

Do vitamin supplements prevent macular degeneration?

October 31, 2017
Vitamin and mineral supplements won't prevent the development of age-related macular degeneration. But there is some evidence taking supplements containing vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc may slow the progression of age-related ...

People with HIV who smoke are more likely to die from lung cancer than from HIV itself

September 18, 2017
People living with HIV who adhere to antiretroviral therapy but smoke cigarettes are around 10 times more likely to die from lung cancer than from HIV itself, according to a study led by researchers at Massachusetts General ...

Filters: a cigarette engineering hoax that harms both smokers and the environment

October 16, 2017
Cigarette filters were initially introduced by the tobacco industry in the 1960s to make cigarettes "safer". But we now know they provide no safety, no health benefits, and are a major cause of environmental littering.

Recommended for you

Study suggests colon cancer cells carry bacteria with them when they metastasize

November 24, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers working at Harvard University has found evidence that suggests a certain type of bacteria found in colon cancer tumors makes its way to tumors in other body parts by traveling with ...

Promising new treatment for rare pregnancy cancer leads to remission in patients

November 24, 2017
An immunotherapy drug can be used to cure women of a rare type of cancer arising from pregnancy when existing treatments have failed.

Researchers unravel novel mechanism by which tumors grow resistant to radiotherapy

November 23, 2017
A Ludwig Cancer Research study has uncovered a key mechanism by which tumors develop resistance to radiation therapy and shown how such resistance might be overcome with drugs that are currently under development. The discovery ...

African Americans face highest risk for multiple myeloma yet underrepresented in research

November 23, 2017
Though African-American men are three times more likely to be diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, most scientific research on the disease has been based on people of European descent, according to a study ...

Encouraging oxygen's assault on iron may offer new way to kill lung cancer cells

November 22, 2017
Blocking the action of a key protein frees oxygen to damage iron-dependent proteins in lung and breast cancer cells, slowing their growth and making them easier to kill. This is the implication of a study led by researchers ...

One-size treatment for blood cancer probably doesn't fit all, researchers say

November 22, 2017
Though African-American men are three times more likely to be diagnosed with a blood cancer called multiple myeloma, most scientific research on the disease has been based on people of European descent, according to a study ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.