A simple urine test could be used to identify why some smokers develop lung cancer while others do not, say US researchers.
According to the team from the University of Minnesota – who studied more than 50,000 people - the presence of the metabolite NNAL in a patient’s urine might predict the risk of lung cancer.
To evaluate the impact of NNAL, the researchers identified 246 current smokers who later developed lung cancer, and 245 smokers who did not develop the disease over a 10-year period.
Compared to those with the lowest levels of NNAL, the researchers found that people with a mid-range level of NNAL had a 43% increased risk of lung cancer, while those at the highest level had more than twice the increased risk of developing the disease.
After also measuring the levels of nicotine in the urine, the researchers found that those with the highest levels of nicotine and NNAL were more than eight times as likely to develop lung cancer compared to those with the lowest levels.
‘A history of smoking has always been thought of as a predictor of lung cancer, but it is actually not very accurate,’ said lead researcher Jian-Min Yuan, associate professor of public health at the University of Minnesota.
‘Smoking leads to lung cancer, but there are about 60 possible carcinogens in tobacco smoke, and the more accurately we can identify the culprit, the better we will become at predicting risk,’ he added.
The full study results will be presented at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting in Denver, Colorado, this week.