Urine test could determine a smoker's lung cancer risk


New research out of the University of Minnesota suggests that a simple urine test given to smokers could determine their risk for developing lung cancer in the future.

Levels of the nicotine compound known as NNAL can be traced through urine tests and was able to gauge a smoker's risk of cancer. The study evaluated the samples of 491 smokers over 10 years and found that high levels of NNAL doubled the risk of lung cancer.

The study, conducted in Shanghai and Singapore, also found that just moderate levels of NNAL increased a person's risk for cancer by 43 percent. NNAL is created as the body metabolizes tobacco.

The study was presented at the American Association for Cancer Research's annual meeting.

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"We've known for a long time that smoking increases a person's risk for getting lung cancer, but we have not been able to clearly answer why one smoker would eventually develop lung cancer and another one would not," said U tobacco researcher Jian-Min Yuan. "Now we know one definitive link."

The cancer risk increased even more, the researchers found, when smokers also had high levels of another nicotine byproduct called cotinine. The cancer risk was 8.5 times higher when smokers had high levels of both.

National Public Radio looked at the ethics behind this type of test and whether the data would make some smokers continue their habit and cause more damage to their bodies. If you aren't at risk for lung cancer from cigarettes, why quit? The answer isn't so simple.
Researchers say this test is no license to smoke; tobacco causes other health problems, such as emphysema, heart disease and other types of cancer.

But the test could be used as a signal that people with high levels of NNAL should be screened more frequently for lung cancer, says Tyler Jacks, the incoming head of the American Association for Cancer Research and a lung cancer researcher with MIT. That way, cancers can be detected early, when they're more treatable.