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Lung cancer, which was rare before 1900 with fewer than 400 cases described in the medical literature, is considered a disease of modern man. By the mid-twentieth century, lung cancer had become epidemic and firmly established as the leading cause of cancer-related death in North America and Europe, killing over three times as many men as prostate cancer and nearly twice as many women as breast cancer. Tobacco consumption is the primary cause of lung cancer, a reality firmly established in the mid-twentieth century and codified with the release of the U.S. Surgeon General’s 1964 report on the health effects of tobacco smoking. Following the report, cigarette use started to decline in North America and parts of Europe, and with it, so did the incidence of lung cancer. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world cigarette use continues to increase, and along with it, the incidence of lung cancers is also rising. Although tobacco smoking remains the primary cause of lung cancer worldwide, approximately 60% of new lung cancers in the United States occur in former smokers (smoked ≥100 cigarettes per lifetime, quit ≥1 year), many of whom quit decades ago, or never smokers (smoked <100 cigarettes per lifetime). Moreover, one in five women and one in 12 men diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked. Given the magnitude of the problem, it is incumbent that every internist has a general knowledge of lung cancer and its management.


Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death among American men and women. Approximately 225,000 individuals will be diagnosed with lung cancer in the United States in 2017, and over 150,000 individuals will die from the disease. Lung cancer is uncommon below age 40, with rates increasing until age 80, after which the rate tapers off. The projected lifetime probability of developing lung cancer is estimated to be ∼8% among males and ∼6% among females. The incidence of lung cancer varies by racial and ethnic group, with the highest age-adjusted incidence rates among African Americans. The excess in age-adjusted rates among African Americans occurs only among men, but examinations of age-specific rates show that below age 50, mortality from lung cancer is more than 25% higher among African American than Caucasian women. Incidence and mortality rates among Hispanics and Native and Asian Americans are ∼40–50% those of whites.


Cigarette smokers have a 10-fold or greater increased risk of developing lung cancer compared to those who have never smoked. A large scale genomic study suggested that one genetic mutation is induced for every 15 cigarettes smoked. The risk of lung cancer is lower among persons who quit smoking than among those who continue smoking; former smokers have a ninefold increased risk of developing lung cancer compared to men who have never smoked versus the 20-fold excess in those who continue to smoke. The ...

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