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The History of Lung Cancer in the United States

The history of lung cancer in the United States corresponds with the use of tobacco.

There are no written records of tobacco use before the 15th century, according to the Annals of Clinical and Laboratory Science. Christopher Columbus brought the first tobacco leaves and seeds from the Americas to Europe, as indigenous Americans smoked tobacco and used it as medicine. Medicinal use of tobacco gradually decreased in the 1800s, but recreational use of tobacco quickly took its place.

Smokeless tobacco, such as snuff and chewing tobacco, was more common than cigarette use before 1930. Cigarette smoking then became popular; mechanization and marketing encouraged more people to pick up the habit. Cigarette use climbed during and after World War II. By 1950, half of all adults in the U.S. smoked cigarettes.

The rates of lung cancer increased as more people began smoking. Early in the century, doctors considered lung cancer to be an extremely rare disease that affected almost no one. By 1940, approximately 10 people per 100,000 died from lung cancer. That number quadrupled to 40 per 100,000 by 1960 – in only 20 years. By 1990, about 90 people in every 100,000 died from lung cancer.

Scientific Evidence Connecting Smoking and Lung Cancer

Thomas Venner was one of the first to warn about the dangers of tobacco use in his article Via Recta, published in London in 1620. London surgeon John Hill reported cancer of the nose in two men who used snuff for many years. Statistician for Prudential Company of America, Frederick Hoffman, carried out a statistical survey and found a link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.

These early observations linking tobacco and cancer led to intense scientific research centuries later, when studies in the 1950s and 1960s showed that smoking causes lung cancer. In 1958, for example, research performed by Cuyler Hammond and Daniel Horn showed that the death rate of men who smoked regularly was 68 percent higher than that of men who had never smoked.

These studies, and 7,000 others like them, contributed to the 1964 report, Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health. Based on the evidence these studies presented, the committee concluded that cigarette smoking was a cause of lung cancer in males and a likely cause of lung cancer in females. The advisory committee concluded the report by issuing a call for appropriate action to curb smoking and lessen the risk of lung cancer.

In the more than 50 years since that report, individual citizens, public agencies, private organizations, and elected officials have pursued the committee’s call to action and have had a great deal of success. While 40 million Americans still smoke, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that nearly half of all living adults who smoked have quit.

Virtual Imaging can check the state of your lungs through preventative screening. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at 770.730.0119 today to make an appointment with Virtual Imaging.