To investigate differences in presentation, pathology, and outcomes after resection of non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in never-smokers versus ever-smokers.
From January 2006 to July 2016, 172 never-smokers and 1376 ever-smokers with NSCLC underwent pulmonary resection. The 2 cohorts were matched on patient characteristics, histopathological cancer cell type, and pathological stage group using a weighted balancing score, and overall survival and cancer recurrence were compared by pathological stage. Random forests for survival was used to identify granular cancer characteristics with different survival and cancer recurrence importance between groups.
In never-smokers, the prevalence of NSCLC was more frequent in women than in men (63% [n = 109] vs 45% [n = 63]). Compared with ever-smokers, never-smokers had less upper-lobe disease (53% [n = 91] vs 62% [n = 855]) and more adenocarcinoma (88% [n = 151] vs 62% [n = 845]). Postoperative complications were similar. Never-smokers had a lower prevalence of non–lung cancer deaths than ever-smokers (13% vs 23% at 5 years; P = .006). Among matched pairs, never-smokers had better overall survival at 5 years in pathological stage I (96% vs 78%), but worse survival in stage II (54% vs 78%). Tumor size, N category, and histopathological cell type were more important drivers of mortality and cancer recurrence in never-smokers than in ever-smokers.
NSCLC in never-smokers affects women more than men and presents with different anatomic and histopathological distributions. Matched never-smokers have better or equivalent outcomes than ever-smokers in pathological stage I cancer, but are less likely to survive and to be cured of cancer as tumor burden increases. These findings suggest that there might be unique tumor or host behaviors differentially impacting survival of never- and ever-smoking patients with NSCLC.