Usually, testing to detect an individual's risk for cancer involves blood tests or other standard techniques. Occasionally, we're surprised with new and different ways of detecting cancer risk. In a recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, findings show a new way to detect lung cancer - by the nicotine levels present in toenails.

As strange as that sounds, the study found a significant link between the nicotine levels in toenail clippings and the cancer risk of the individual. The study involved more than 30,000 men, and 210 of those individuals ended up having lung cancer. The nicotine levels in the toenail clippings of those men were compared to the clippings from the healthy men.

An interesting discovery about this testing method is that it can predict lung cancer risk regardless of whether the person smoked tobacco products throughout life or not. Although smokers are typically much more at risk of lung cancer than non-smokers, findings from this study revealed that 10 percent of the men with the highest levels of nicotine in their toenails had never smoked in their lives.

This, of course, brings to light the topic of second-hand smoke and its potential repercussions. According to the American Cancer Society, some of the most common places where second-hand smoke is an issue are:
  • At work. Though many workplaces today have become smoke-free environments, this is still an issue in some places.
  • At home. We spend most of our time in our homes, so this is an especially important place with regard to second-hand smoke. In addition to affecting one's significant other, children in the home are also exposed to second-hand smoke and have increased cancer risk.
  • In public places. When a public place or establishment does not have restrictions on smoking, everyone is exposed to second-hand smoke.
  • In the car. There may not be a more deadly place for second-hand smoke than inside a car. With little room to disperse, the second-hand smoke inside a closed car leaves a non-smoking passenger completely exposed to the various cancer-causing agents in cigarettes.


Non-smokers who inhale second-hand smoke are exposed to nicotine and other toxic chemicals just as a smoker would be. Because of this, second-hand smoke is a cancer-causing agent and is recognized as such by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Approximately 3,400 non-smoking adults in the U.S. die from lung cancer every year.