Lung Cancer

What causes lung cancer? (Part 3)

Familial predisposition

While the majority of lung cancers are associated with tobacco smoking, the fact that not all smokers eventually develop lung cancer suggests that other factors, such as individual genetic susceptibility, may play a role in the causation of lung cancer. Numerous studies have shown that lung cancer is more likely to occur in both smoking and nonsmoking relatives of those who have had lung cancer than in the general population. One study in never-smokers showed that a genetic change at a single region on chromosome 13 was associated with an increase in risk for developing non-small cell lung cancer. A large genetic study of lung cancer that involved over 10,000 people from 18 countries and led by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), identified a small region in the genome (DNA) that contains genes that appear to confer an increased susceptibility to lung cancer in smokers. The specific genes, located on the q arm of chromosome 15, code for proteins that interact with nicotine and other tobacco toxins (nicotinic acetylcholine receptor genes).

Lung diseases

The presence of certain diseases of the lung, notably chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is associated with an increased risk (four- to six-fold the risk of a nonsmoker) for the development of lung cancer even after the effects of concomitant cigarette smoking are excluded. Pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lung) appears to increase the risk about seven-fold, and this risk does not appear to be related to smoking.

Prior history of lung cancer

Survivors of lung cancer have a greater risk of developing a second lung cancer than the general population has of developing a first lung cancer. Survivors of non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLCs, see below) have an additive risk of 1% to 2% per year for developing a second lung cancer. In survivors of small cell lung cancers (SCLCs, see below), the risk for development of second lung cancers approaches 6% per year.

Air pollution

Air pollution from vehicles, industry, and power plants can raise the likelihood of developing lung cancer in exposed individuals. Up to 1% of lung cancer deaths are attributable to breathing polluted air, and experts believe that prolonged exposure to highly polluted air can carry a risk for the development of lung cancer similar to that of passive smoking.

Reviewed on 12/3/2013
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