Purpose: To elucidate whether emphysematous lesions and other high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) findings considered associated with smoking are part of a progressive process, and to measure the extent to which similar changes are found in never-smokers.
Material and methods: Healthy smokers and never-smokers were recruited from a randomized epidemiological study and investigated with a 6-year interval. Emphysema, parenchymal and subpleural nodules, ground-glass opacities, bronchial alterations, and septal lines were evaluated in 66 subjects (40 smokers, 11 of whom had stopped smoking in the interval, and 26 never-smokers). Lung function was tested.
Results: All except emphysematous lesions were present to some extent in never-smokers. Emphysema, parenchymal nodules, and septal lines occurred significantly more in current smokers, and a progression in extent of emphysema, ground-glass opacities, bronchial alterations and septal lines was seen. There was no significant change among those who stopped and never-smokers except for bronchial alterations, which progressed in never-smokers.
Conclusion: In healthy, elderly never-smokers a low extent of various HRCT findings has to be considered normal. Emphysema, parenchymal nodules, and ground-glass opacities are indicative of smoking-induced disease. Further progress may cease if smoking is stopped.