Lung cancer is a leading cause of cancer death worldwide. While smoking remains the predominant cause of lung cancer, lung cancer in never-smokers is an increasingly prominent public health issue. Data on this topic, particularly lung cancer incidence rates in never-smokers, however, are limited.
We review the existing literature on lung cancer incidence and mortality rates among never-smokers and present new data regarding rates in never-smokers from large, population-based cohorts: 1) Nurses’ Health Study, 2) Health Professionals Follow-up Study, 3) California Teachers Study, 4) Multiethnic Cohort Study, 5) Swedish Lung Cancer Register in the Uppsala/Örebro region, and the 6) First National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Epidemiologic Follow-up Study.
Truncated age-adjusted incidence rates of lung cancer among never-smokers aged 40 to 79 years in these six cohorts 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, supporting earlier observations that women are more likely than men to have non-smoking-associated lung cancer. The distinct biology of lung cancer in never-smokers is apparent in differential responses to epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitors and an increased prevalence of adenocarcinoma histology in never-smokers.
Lung cancer in never-smokers is an important public health issue needing further exploration of its incidence patterns, etiology, and biology.