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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, killing over three times as many men as prostate cancer and nearly twice as many women as breast cancer. Although lung cancer remains the number one cause of cancer-related mortality, a decline in lung cancer deaths has emerged, attributed to improvements in testing and therapeutic strategies and a decline in tobacco usage. 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. 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.


Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death among American men and women. Approximately 228,000 individuals will be diagnosed with lung cancer in the United States in 2020, and >135, 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 >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. The size of the lung cancer risk reduction increases with the length of time the person has quit smoking, although even long-term former smokers have higher risks of lung cancer than those who never smoked. Cigarette smoking has been shown to increase the risk of all major types of lung cancer. Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) or second-hand smoke is also an established cause of lung cancer. The risk from ...

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