September 4, 2008 / 10:18 PM / in 11 years

Breathing disorder puts blacks at high cancer risk

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Blacks with a history of the chronic breathing disorder COPD have a far greater risk of developing lung cancer than whites who have the lung disease, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.

They said the high risk for blacks with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease highlights the need for better risk assessment tools that take race and ethnicity into account.

“The one-size-fits-all risk prediction clearly does not work,” Carol Etzel of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, whose report appears in the journal Cancer Prevention Research, said in a statement.

Etzel’s team developed the risk assessment tool for African Americans to help doctors better predict a patient’s specific risk for lung cancer.

They analyzed data from 491 African Americans with lung cancer and 497 African Americans without lung cancer to look for risk factors. They compared these with existing risk models for whites.

The new model found black men with a prior history of COPD had a more than sixfold increased risk of lung cancer, on par with someone who is actively smoking.

The risk is about twice as high as that typically seen in whites with a history of COPD, which includes emphysema, chronic bronchitis and some types of serious chronic asthma.

Smoking is by far the leading cause of COPD, but environmental factors including pollution play a role.

Blacks and white smokers both have six times higher risk of lung cancer than non-smokers. And blacks with hay fever are 44 percent less likely to get lung cancer than other blacks, a finding that has also been seen in whites.

Etzel’s team is now working on a risk assessment model for Hispanics.

“What we hope is that a doctor can use these models to encourage their patients to take steps to prevent lung cancer. Even if they are never smokers, they can be at risk,” Etzel said.

Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer worldwide, with almost 1.2 million deaths per year — 162,000 deaths a year in the United States alone.

The National Cancer Institute estimates that 15,000 people who have never smoked die every year from lung cancer in the United States.

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