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Lung Cancer Equally Prevalent in Non-smokers


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Published on September 11, 2008

Being diagnosed with lung cancer is no longer the misfortune of smokers alone. Non-smokers – people who haven’t lighted a cigarette ever, seem to die of the disease at the same rate, researchers with the American Cancer Society have established.

Though smoking, particularly cigarettes, is by far the key contributor to lung cancer with estimated 87 percent lung cancer deaths each year in the United States, non-smokers can still develop the disease. As high as 10-15 percent cases are triggered by factors other than smoke, the health authorities highlighted.

The occurrence of lung cancer in non-smokers is often attributed to a combination of genetic factors, radon gas, asbestos, viral infections and air pollution including passive smoking.

"The great majority of lung cancers are caused by smoking," stressed study author Dr. Michael Thun, Head of Epidemiological Research at the American Cancer Society. "But there has been a lot of interest lately in those lung cancer cases that affect patients who have never smoked."

The researchers gathered information from 13 large studies and 22 cancer registries – collectively representing nearly 2 million men and women living in 10 countries across North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

The key points highlighted in the study include:

• Regardless of age and racial groups, more men are likely to die of the disease than women.

• Both men and women, age 40 and above, were equally likely to develop the disease.

• African Americans, Asians residing in Korea and Japan, are more likely to die from lung cancer than those of European descent.

• For non-smokers, the incidences of the disease don't seem to be rising, especially among women in the U.S, age 40 to 69. The comparisons were made between nonsmoking women population in 1930 with that of today.

• The disease is more common in East Asian women than in women from other parts of the world where female smoking rates are not too high.

The findings are published in the September issue of PloS Medicine.

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