Gene mutation increases lung cancer risk

When it comes to lung cancer, I always knew there was more to the story than just smoking. And now, new research out of Japan provides more proof that I was right.

Here’s why this new Japanese research is important…

Nine out of 10 people who smoke never get lung cancer. Yet, one out of 100 people who never smoke ­do get lung cancer. In fact, there are roughly 50,000 women living in the U.S. today with lung cancer. But they never smoked a day in their lives. Overall, never-smokers now account for about 15 percent of all lung cancer victims.

And former smokers, who have already quit, account for more than 50 percent of the rest.

Yet the U.S. government appears ignorant of these basic statistics. They tell us if we want to avoid lung cancer, we just need to stop smoking…or never start.

But what about the lung cancer victims who never smoked? They can’t stop smoking because they never started! Why do they get lung cancer?

As I have always said, there is more to the story.

When it comes to emphysema, another lung disease, we know that genetics does play a role. (COPD is a new name for emphysema and conditions with related effects.) In fact, scientists now know that men and women who carry certain genetic variants of the enzyme alpha-one antitrypsin have a much higher risk of developing emphysema if they smoke. And even if they don’t smoke.

Now, let’s take that one step further…

Since genes can affect your risk of getting other types of cancer, and even other lung diseases like emphysema, can it affect your lung cancer risk too?

Of course, it can.

And for at least 40 years, many medical scientists have said we should be researching other risk factors, like the genetics of lung cancer. Indeed, my professors at the University of Pennsylvania talked about it back in the 1970s.

Thankfully, Japanese scientists haven’t stopped trying to tackle the genetics of lung cancer. They found that women who carry a specific genetic mutation run a higher risk of lung cancer. Even if they do not smoke.

Normally, this gene protects lung cells from oxidative stress. And it makes sense that humans developed genes that protect them against oxidation in the lungs. Especially when you consider that people have been inhaling smoke for a long time. At least since the “discovery” of fire about a million years ago.

But when this gene mutates, it impairs the body’s normal ability to protect the lungs from oxidative damage. And this genetic mutation is four times more common in women than in men.

Now, think of it this way…

When you smoke, you run 10 times the risk of developing lung cancer. So, a genetic mutation that causes four times the risk should be worthy of note.

Surprisingly, both women and men with this genetic mutation actually have better lung cancer survival rates. Perhaps this gene makes cancer treatments more effective.

No doubt, studying genetics can be complicated. That’s why it really has to be studied. And I would be willing to bet that scientists will uncover more genetic links to lung cancer as time goes on…if they look. Too bad the research might not happen in the U.S.

The U.S. government invests billions of dollars to study the human genome project. Why not include the genetics of lung cancer? We might be further along in preventing and treating it, if we had started the genetics research 40 years ago or more when my professors at Penn were talking about it.

Science has always shown us that understanding the biology of the disease is a good step toward prevention…and treatment.

Yes, it’s quite a bit more challenging than repeating politically correct slogans. But

30 years ago, a few behavioral scientists in Washington D.C. made a blind, sweeping, political decision. They decided that smoking is THE cause of lung cancer. And all the science went out the window.

They gave up on the other risk factors. They gave up on developing real treatments. And they gave up on 50,000 lung cancer victims today who never smoked.

As always, I will continue to bring you the real science about lung cancer. And this month, in my Insiders’ Cures newsletter, subscribers will learn about how to prevent the top-10 deadliest cancers in women. If you are not a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.



1. “SNP (–617C>A) in ARE-Like Loci of the NRF2 Gene: A New Biomarker for Prognosis of Lung Adenocarcinoma in Japanese Non-Smoking Women,” PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (9): e73794