Background: Adenocarcinoma of the lung, once considered minimally related to cigarette smoking, has become the most common type of lung cancer in the United States. The increased incidence of this cancer might be explained by advances in diagnostic technology (i.e., increased ability to perform biopsies on tumors in smaller, more distal airways), changes in cigarette design (e.g., the adoption of filtertips), or changes in smoking practices. We examined data from the Connecticut Tumor Registry and two American Cancer Society studies to explore these possibilities.
Methods: Connecticut Tumor Registry data from 1959 through 1991 were analyzed to determine whether the increase in lung adenocarcinoma observed during that period could be best described by birth cohort effects (i.e., generational changes in cigarette smoking) or calendar period effects (i.e., diagnostic advances). Associations between cigarette smoking and death from specific types of lung cancer during the first 2 years of follow-up in Cancer Prevention Study I (CPS-I), initiated in 1959) and Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II, initiated in 1982) were also examined.
Results: Adenocarcinoma incidence in Connecticut increased nearly 17-fold in women and nearly 10-fold in men from 1959 through 1991. The increases followed a clear birth cohort pattern, paralleling gender and generational changes in smoking more than diagnostic advances. Cigarette smoking became more strongly associated with death from lung adenocarcinoma in CPS-II compared with CPS-I, with relative risks of 19.0 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 8.3-47.7) for men and 8.1 (95% CI = 4.5-14.6) for women in CPS-II and 4.6 (95% CI = 1.7-12.6) for men and 1.5 (0.3-7.7) for women in CPS-I.
Conclusions: The increase in lung adenocarcinoma since the 1950s is more consistent with changes in smoking behavior and cigarette design than with diagnostic advances.