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Team investigates why smokers in certain ethnic groups are more likely to get lung cancer than others

Stephen Hecht, Ph.D. Tobacco researchers at the Masonic Cancer Center led by Stephen Hecht, Ph.D., will conduct a five-year study on why African Americans and Native Hawaiians are more susceptible to getting lung cancer from cigarette smoking than other ethnic groups.

This study—a collaborative effort of the University of Minnesota, University of Southern California, and the University of Hawaii—is funded with a new $10.7 million program project research grant (see sidebar) from the National Cancer Institute.

A previous study showed that African Americans who smoked fewer than 10 or between 10 and 20 cigarettes per day were 2.5 to almost 5 times more likely to develop lung cancer than Japanese Americans and Latinos who smoked the same amount. They were about twice as likely to get lung cancer as Caucasians who smoked the same amount.

The study further found that while about 30 percent of African Americans and 27 percent of whites currently smoke cigarettes, about 8 percent of African American cigarette smokers smoke more than 25 cigarettes per day compared with 28 percent of white smokers who smoke more than a pack a day. This indicates that although African Americans are less likely than whites to be heavy smokers, they have a higher risk of getting smoking-related lung cancer.

Native Hawaiians’ risk of smoking-related lung cancer for was found to be similar to that of African Americans.

“Those findings imply that African American and Native Hawaiian smokers metabolize nicotine and tobacco carcinogens differently than whites, Japanese Americans, and Latinos,” Hecht says. “Our new research study will aim to find out why this appears to be the case.”

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