The epidemiology of lung cancer

Cancer Treat Res. 2001;105:31-52. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4615-1589-0_2.


Lung cancer continues to be the leader in cancer deaths in the United States. The incidence of lung cancer in men has slowly decreased since the late 1980s, but has just now begun to plateau in women at the end of this decade. Despite modest advances in chemotherapy for treating lung cancer, it remains a deadly disease with overall 5-yr survival rates having not increased significantly over the last 25 years, remaining at approximately 14%. Tobacco smoking causes approximately 85-90% of bronchogenic carcinoma. Environmental tobacco exposure or a second-hand smoke also may cause lung cancer in life-long non-smokers. Certain occupational agents such as arsenic, asbestos, chromium, nickel and vinyl chloride increase the relative risk for lung cancer. Smoking has an additive or multiplicative effect with some of these agents. Familial predisposition for lung cancer is an area with advancing research. Developments in molecular biology have led to growing interest in investigation of biological markers, which may increase predisposition to smoking-related carcinogenesis. Hopefully, in the future we will be able to screen for lung cancer by using specific biomarkers. Finally, dietary factors have also been proposed as potential risk modulators, with vitamins A, C and E proposed as having a protective effect. Despite the slow decline of smoking in the United States, lung cancer will likely continue its devastation for years to come.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Air Pollution / adverse effects
  • Animals
  • Asbestosis / epidemiology
  • Carcinogens / adverse effects
  • Carcinogens, Environmental / adverse effects
  • Child
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / genetics
  • Diet
  • Ethnicity
  • Female
  • Genes, myc
  • Genes, ras
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Lung Diseases / epidemiology
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Lung Neoplasms / ethnology
  • Lung Neoplasms / mortality
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms, Radiation-Induced / etiology
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Precancerous Conditions / epidemiology
  • Racial Groups
  • Radon / adverse effects
  • Sex Distribution
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / adverse effects
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Carcinogens
  • Carcinogens, Environmental
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • Radon