Background: The obesity-lung cancer association remains controversial. Concerns over confounding by smoking and reverse causation persist. The influence of obesity type and effect modifications by race/ethnicity and tumor histology are largely unexplored.
Methods: We examined associations of body mass index (BMI), waist circumference (WC), and waist-hip ratio (WHR) with lung cancer risk among 1.6 million Americans, Europeans, and Asians. Cox proportional hazard regression was used to estimate hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) with adjustment for potential confounders. Analyses for WC/WHR were further adjusted for BMI. The joint effect of BMI and WC/WHR was also evaluated.
Results: During an average 12-year follow-up, 23 732 incident lung cancer cases were identified. While BMI was generally associated with a decreased risk, WC and WHR were associated with increased risk after controlling for BMI. These associations were seen 10 years before diagnosis in smokers and never smokers, were strongest among blacks, and varied by histological type. After excluding the first five years of follow-up, hazard ratios per 5 kg/m2 increase in BMI were 0.95 (95% CI = 0.90 to 1.00), 0.92 (95% CI = 0.89 to 0.95), and 0.89 (95% CI = 0.86 to 0.91) in never, former, and current smokers, and 0.86 (95% CI = 0.84 to 0.89), 0.94 (95% CI = 0.90 to 0.99), and 1.09 (95% CI = 1.03 to 1.15) for adenocarcinoma, squamous cell, and small cell carcinoma, respectively. Hazard ratios per 10 cm increase in WC were 1.09 (95% CI = 1.00 to 1.18), 1.12 (95% CI = 1.07 to 1.17), and 1.11 (95% CI = 1.07 to 1.16) in never, former, and current smokers, and 1.06 (95% CI = 1.01 to 1.12), 1.20 (95% CI = 1.12 to 1.29), and 1.13 (95% CI = 1.04 to 1.23) for adenocarcinoma, squamous cell, and small cell carcinoma, respectively. Participants with BMIs of less than 25 kg/m2 but high WC had a 40% higher risk (HR = 1.40, 95% CI = 1.26 to 1.56) than those with BMIs of 25 kg/m2 or greater but normal/moderate WC.
Conclusions: The inverse BMI-lung cancer association is not entirely due to smoking and reverse causation. Central obesity, particularly concurrent with low BMI, may help identify high-risk populations for lung cancer.