Although African Americans smoke fewer cigarettes and inhale them less deeply than Caucasians, they contract emphysema at an earlier age, according to a study by Temple University researchers in the journal Chest.
The study, which confirms findings from a smaller preliminary study published last year, also offers evidence of biological differences in the distribution of emphysema and the severity of lung destruction between African Americans and Caucasians, leading researchers to conclude that the mechanism underlying the disease might also vary between the races.
“Not everyone who smokes gets emphysema or the same type of emphysema,” said Wissam Chatila, MD, lead author and associate professor of medicine at Temple University School of Medicine and Hospital. “Our study supports previous findings that there might be something different between African Americans and Caucasians who are susceptible to the bad effects of smoking. The next question—why is this so?”
While researchers begin to tackle this puzzle, Chatila notes that the current study contains important implications for primary care doctors of African American patients. By identifying the disease early and avoiding misdiagnosis, patients can receive better treatments and achieve improved outcomes. Along with an understanding of how severe emphysema develops, the work may also aid in shaping antismoking policies and smoking cessation programs that specifically target African Americans.