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Study: Nonsmokers Susceptible to Lung Cancer

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A new study has found that as many as 20 percent of all women who get lung cancer have never smoked cigarettes, compared to only 8 percent of men with lung cancer. The results may lead to a closer examination of the effects of secondhand smoke, especially on females. The study is published in the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

“Although smoking remains the predominant cause of lung cancer, lung cancer in never smokers is an increasingly prominent public health issue,” wrote Dr. Heather A. Wakelee of the Division of Medical Oncology, Stanford Clinical Cancer Center. Dr. Wakelee and her colleagues studied roughly 1 million individuals with lung cancer, ages 40 to 79, and discovered lung cancer among never smokers ranged from 14.4 to 20.8 per 100,000 person-years in women and 4.8 to 13.7 per 100,000 person-years in men, confirming a widely held theory that “women are more likely than men to have non–smoking-associated lung cancer.”

In an editorial accompanying the study, Drs. Adi Gazdar and Michael Thun wrote, “Lung cancer is the most preventable of all of the major forms of cancer because 85 percent to 90 percent of deaths from lung cancer are a result of active cigarette smoking. However, even in people who have never smoked, lung cancer accounts for approximately 15,000 deaths annually, similar to the number of deaths projected for ovarian cancer in 2006 and more than the number of deaths projected for brain cancer, bladder cancer, or multiple myeloma.”

They go on to say, “The report by Wakelee et al provides the first direct evidence that lung cancer incidence is higher among women than men who have never smoked… These data are particularly interesting because previous studies of lung cancer in lifelong nonsmokers have examined death rates but not incidence. Two massive American Cancer Society cohorts … demonstrate that the death rate from lung cancer is approximately 25 percent higher in men than in women who have never smoked…, [but] women may be more susceptible to develop lung cancer than men but are less likely to die from the disease.”

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