Why do some people seem to “get away with” smoking for most of their life, and others develop lung cancer?
A trio of recent studies suggests that part of the reason lies in those characteristics we inherit from mom and dad.
Three separate teams of researchers evaluated the role of genetics in the development of lung cancer. It was found that a certain genetic variation was associated not only with an increased likelihood that individuals would develop lung cancer - but also made it more difficult for them to quit smoking. Double trouble.
Before we blame our parents for sharing defective DNA, keep in mind that environmental influences continue to play the largest role in the development of lung cancer. The genetic variation in these studies accounts for only 14% of lung cancer cases. And - these genes do not themselves cause lung cancer. They simply increase the damaging effects of smoking on the lungs.
The discovery of a genetic predisposition for lung cancer will perhaps guide scientists to develop a blood test to see who is at risk for lung cancer, or identify those individuals who should undergo screening to catch cancer early on. For now, quitting smoking, and practicing other preventive measures to lower the risk of lung cancer are paramount.
A susceptibility locus for lung cancer maps to nicotinic acetylcholine receptor subunit genes on 15q25. 2008. Hung, R. et al. Nature. 452(7187):633-7.
A variant associated with nicotine dependence, lung cancer and peripheral arterial disease. 2008. Thorgeirsson, T. et al. Nature. 452(7187):638-42.
Genome-wide association scan of tag SNPs identifies a susceptibility locus for lung cancer at 15q25.1. 2008. Amos, C. et al. Nature Genetics. April 2(Epub ahead of time.)