Purpose: Lung cancer is a leading cause of cancer death worldwide. Although smoking remains the predominant cause of lung cancer, lung cancer in never smokers is an increasingly prominent public health issue. However, data on this topic, particularly lung cancer incidence rates in never smokers, are limited.
Methods: We reviewed the existing literature on lung cancer incidence and mortality rates among never smokers and present new data regarding rates in never smokers from the following large, prospective cohorts: Nurses' Health Study; Health Professionals Follow-Up Study; California Teachers Study; Multiethnic Cohort Study; Swedish Lung Cancer Register in the Uppsala/Orebro region; and First National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Epidemiologic Follow-Up Study.
Results: Truncated age-adjusted incidence rates of lung cancer among never smokers age 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.
Conclusion: Lung cancer in never smokers is an important public health issue, and further exploration of its incidence patterns, etiology, and biology is needed.