Friday, January 27, 2006

The Lighter Side of Lung Cancer?

Smoking cigarettes is the worst single thing you can do to your body, especially if you're African-American.

Researchers at UCLA studied 183,813 African-American, Japanese-American, Latino, native Hawaiian and white-American men and women who smoked.

Over eight years 1,979 of these people were diagnosed with lung cancer. Not surprisingly, the risk was related to the number of smokes per day.

Among people who lit up 30 cigarettes a day, or less, African-Americans and native Hawaiians had a significantly higher risk of lung cancer. If you had to have cancer, lung is a bad, very bad, choice. People with lung cancer have a low five-year survival rate.

Over all, African-Americans and native Hawaiians are way more likely to get lung cancer.

The question is why.

The doctors controlled for differences in diet, physical activity, and other pertinent factors. Even so, blacks and Hawaiians are apparently more prone to lung cancer.

This is really puzzling because all of us humans originated in Africa (a long time ago) and only recently developed "racial" characteristics. The idea of races is scientific piffle, biologists say.

There are reasons for certain differences. If you live near the equator darker skin helps protect against skin cancer. We need sunlight to use vitamin D, which is why people at higher lattitudes with less sun have paler skin. Maybe.

That makes sense in a certain way. But what advantage does susceptility to lung cancer confer? Or is it really a stronger response to nicotine? More sensitive brains? Better sense of smell? All of those evolved long before the discovery of tobacco.

There have to be some real reasons why blacks and Hawaiians get more lung cancer. The alternative is "racial differences," which is merely a social construct of prejudiced white people. That conceit has never led to anything remotely positive.

It'll take a long time to figure all of this out. Meanwhile, if you want to avoid lung cancer -- regardless of how much melanin is in your skin -- don't smoke.

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