- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 25, 2006

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Even when they smoke the same amount, blacks are more likely than whites and others to develop lung cancer, suggesting that genes may help explain the racial differences long seen in the disease, researchers say.

The largest study done on the subject found that whites who smoke up to a pack a day have half the risk of lung cancer compared with blacks and native Hawaiians who smoke the same amount. Hispanic and Asian smokers also were found to be less likely than blacks to develop the disease. However, the racial differences disappeared among heavy smokers.

Researchers from the University of Southern California and University of Hawaii analyzed lung cancer cases from an eight-year period. After adjusting for diet, education and other factors, the researchers found that whites who smoked up to a pack a day had a 43 percent to 55 percent lower risk of lung cancer than blacks who smoked the same amount. Hispanics and Japanese-Americans were 60 percent to 80 percent less likely than blacks to develop the disease.

Doctors have long known that blacks are substantially more likely than whites to develop lung cancer and more likely to die from it, but the reasons for the disparity are not clear.

Some say the difference is a matter of genetics, while others contend smoking habits may play a role. For example, researchers say blacks tend to puff more deeply than whites, which may expose them to more carcinogens.

In the latest study — published in today’s New England Journal of Medicine — researchers compared the lung cancer risk among ethnic groups who smoked the same amount.

Although the study did not address the potential reasons for the racial disparity, lead researcher Christopher Haiman, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at USC, said the findings suggest that genes may be one of the factors.

The study involved more than 180,000 people, more than half of them minorities. Patients filled out questionnaires about their smoking habits, diet and other personal information.

The study found no difference in lung cancer risk among the ethnic groups for those who smoked more than three packs a day.

Black, Hispanic and Japanese-American men who never smoked had higher risks of lung cancer than white men who never smoked, but hardly any difference was seen in women in those ethnic groups.

According to the American Lung Association, black men are 50 percent more likely to develop lung cancer and 36 percent more likely to die from the disease than white men.

Previous studies have suggested that black smokers tend to absorb more nicotine and tobacco carcinogens than whites, geneticist Neil Risch noted in an accompanying editorial.

The effect of race on the risk of disease is disputed, in part because race was used to discriminate in human experiments. Now it is increasingly being exploited in the emerging field of medicine that tailors drugs to a person’s genetics. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved a heart-failure drug specifically for blacks.

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