Lung cancer mortality after 16 years in MRFIT participants in intervention and usual-care groups

B. Jessica Shaten*, Lewis H. Kuller, Marcus O. Kjelsberg, Jeremiah Stamler, Judith K. Ockene, Jeffrey A. Cutler, Jerome D. Cohen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


PURPOSE: The Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial (MRFIT), a randomized clinical trial for the primary prevention of coronary heart disease, enrolled 12,866 men (including 8194 cigarette smokers) aged 35-57 years at 22 clinical centers across the United States. Participants were randomized either to special intervention (SI), which included an intensive smoking cessation program, or to usual care (UC). After 16 years of follow- up, lung cancer mortality rates were higher in the SI than in the UC group. Since rates of smoking cessation in SI were higher than those for UC for the 6 years of the trial, and since risk of lung cancer mortality is known to decline with smoking cessation, these results were unexpected. The purpose of the present study was to investigate hypotheses that could explain the higher observed lung cancer mortality rates in the SI as compared with the UC group. METHODS: Analysis methods were employed to determine whether SI and UC participants differed either in baseline characteristics or in characteristics that changed during the trial and to determine whether these differences could explain the higher rates of lung cancer mortality among SI as compared to UC participants. Rates of mortality from coronary heart (CHD) were examined to explore the possibility that prevention of CHD death may have contributed to greater mortality due to lung cancer in the SI group. RESULTS: From randomization through December 1990, 135 SI and 117 UC participants died from lung cancer. The relative difference between the SI and U groups adjusted for age and number of cigarettes smoked per day, was 1.17 (95% CI:0.92-1.51). The greatest difference between the SI and UC groups in lung cancer mortality rates occurred among the heaviest smokers at baseline who did not achieve sustained smoking cessation by year 2. In this group the rates of death from CHD were approximately the same among the SI and UC subjects. No differences in baseline characteristics were found between SI and UC smokers who did not achieve sustained cessation by year 2, and there were no differences in follow-up characteristics between the two study groups that could explain the difference in lung cancer mortality. CONCLUSIONS: None of the hypotheses proposed to explain the unexpected higher rates of lung cancer mortality among SI as compared with UC subjects were sustained by the data. Thus we conclude that the difference observed is due to chance, and that a longer period of sustained smoking cessation plus follow-up is necessary to detect a reduction in lung cancer mortality as a result of smoking cessation intervention in a randomized clinical trial.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-136
Number of pages12
JournalAnnals of Epidemiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1997


  • Clinical trials
  • Intervention studies
  • Lung cancer
  • Smoking cessation
  • mortality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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