Smoking Declines Helped Prevent More Lung Cancer Deaths than ExpectedReductions in smoking have helped to save more lives from lung cancer than previously thought, an NCI-funded study has found, but many more deaths could have been averted with even greater declines in smoking. In the study, researchers in NCI’s Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network (CISNET) used computer models to quantify the impact of falling smoking rates on lung cancer mortality in the United States. The findings appeared March 14 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
The researchers modeled three different scenarios: one based on actual smoking behaviors, one in which all smoking ceased following publication of the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health in 1964, and one in which smoking rates remained at the high levels that existed prior to the report’s publication (representing what might have occurred if no tobacco control policies had been implemented).
It was estimated that, on average, 795,000 deaths from lung cancer were averted between 1975 and 2000 due to actual declines in smoking. (This calculation does not include deaths from other forms of cancer or smoking-related diseases.) Had all smoking ceased in 1965—the first full year after the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report—2.5 million deaths from lung cancer would have been averted during the same period, a number slightly less than the current population of Chicago.
The estimated mortality reductions are much larger than several earlier studies predicted. “[Our study] was a much more detailed analysis” than had been performed in those earlier studies, explained study co-author Dr. Suresh Moolgavkar of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “We essentially reconstructed smoking histories and the associated lung cancer risks for the entire U.S. population.”
The CISNET study “should serve as a model for future analyses in public health more broadly,” wrote Dr. Thomas Glynn of the American Cancer Society in an accompanying commentary. The results, he continued, “are tantalizing—especially in the ‘what could have been’ scenario—but, more important, they give us a clear view to what should be the future of tobacco control in the United States.”
The study’s findings “show that we’ve come a long way since the first Surgeon General’s report and [have] done a very good job of reducing tobacco use,” said study co-author Dr. Eric “Rocky” Feuer of NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences. “But they also show that we still have a long way yet to go and cannot relax our efforts.”