Lung cancer in never smokers: Clinical epidemiology and environmental risk factors
More than 161,000 lung cancer deaths are projected to occur in the United States in 2008. Of these, an estimated 10 to 15% will be caused by factors other than active smoking, corresponding to 16,000 to 24,000 deaths annually. Thus lung cancer in never smokers would rank among the most common causes of cancer mortality in the United States if considered as a separate category. Slightly more than half of the lung cancers caused by factors other than active smoking occur in never smokers. As summarized in the accompanying article, lung cancers that occur in never smokers differ from those that occur in smokers in their molecular profile and response to targeted therapy. These recent laboratory and clinical observations highlight the importance of defining the genetic and environmental factors responsible for the development of lung cancer in never smokers. This article summarizes available data on the clinical epidemiology of lung cancer in never smokers, and several environmental risk factors that population-based research has implicated in the etiology of these cancers. Primary factors closely tied to lung cancer in never smokers include exposure to known and suspected carcinogens including radon, second-hand tobacco smoke, and other indoor air pollutants. Several other exposures have been implicated. However, a large fraction of lung cancers occurring in never smokers cannot be definitively associated with established environmental risk factors, highlighting the need for additional epidemiologic research in this area.