The hypothesis that rare variable nucleotide tandem repeat alleles of the Ha-ras-1 polymorphism are an inherited predisposing factor in human lung carcinogenesis has been evaluated in an age, race, and smoking matched case-control study. Twenty-three different alleles were identified by their restriction fragment length in DNA isolated from peripheral blood lymphocytes and were categorized into three groups: common; intermediate; and rare. The frequencies of rare alleles in blacks with either squamous cell carcinoma, large cell carcinoma, or small cell carcinoma were found to be significantly higher than those among groups of control subjects that were comprised of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients and patients with cancer at sites other than the lung. A similar trend which did not reach statistical significance was observed in whites. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that inheritance of Ha-ras-1 rare restriction fragment length alleles represents a genetic risk factor for some human lung cancers. The biological basis of this observation remains to be clarified, and it is possible that ethnic variations in rare allele frequencies are responsible for the differences noted. However, the data suggest that further evaluation of the Ha-ras-1 polymorphism as a marker of individual lung cancer susceptibility is warranted.

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