CHARLOTTE, N.C. (November 13, 2019) — Lung cancer is the #1 cancer killer of women and men in the United States. While it’s estimated that 8,010 North Carolina residents will be diagnosed with this disease in 2019 alone, fortunately more Americans than ever are surviving the disease according to a new report from the American Lung Association.
The annual “State of Lung Cancer” report examines the toll of lung cancer throughout the nation, and outlines steps every state can take to better protect its residents from lung cancer. This year’s “State of Lung Cancer” seeks to continue the positive trend of increased lung cancer survival, as the nationwide five-year lung cancer survival rate of 21.7%, up from 17.2% a decade ago, reflects a 26% improvement over the past 10 years. In North Carolina the survival rate is 21.5%.
“While we celebrate that more Americans than ever are surviving lung cancer, the disease remains the leading cause of cancer deaths, and much more can and must be done in North Carolina to prevent the disease and support families facing the disease,” said June Deen, Director of Advocacy, American Lung Association. “There are a variety of risk factors associated with lung cancer, including smoking, exposure to radon gas, air pollution and secondhand smoke. Radon testing and mitigation, healthy air protections, and reducing the smoking rate through tobacco tax increases, smokefree air laws and access to comprehensive quit smoking services are all effective ways to prevent new lung cancer cases.”
Part of the reason that lung cancer is so deadly is because most lung cancer cases are diagnosed at a later stage, after the disease has spread. Lung cancer screening is the key to early detection, when the disease is most curable, but only 21.5% of lung cancer cases nationally are diagnosed at an early stage. While this simple screening test has been available since 2015, 21.2% of those eligible in North Carolina have been screened.
If a patient meets the following criteria, they are considered to be at “high risk” for developing lung cancer and screening is recommended:
• 55-80 years of age
• Have a 30 pack-year history of smoking (this means 1 pack a day for 30 years, 2 packs a day for 15 years, etc.)
• AND, are a current smoker, or have quit within the last 15 years
“This simple test – lung cancer screening – is a powerful tool to save lives,” said Deen. “Yet we’re only seeing a fraction of those who qualify actually getting screened. We’re pushing for greater awareness of this test to save more lives here in North Carolina.”
The “State of Lung Cancer” 2019 report finds that the burden of lung cancer varies on a state by state basis. By better understanding the impact of lung cancer across the nation, efforts and policies can be focused where the needs are greatest, and this year’s report finds North Carolina can and must do more to protect residents from lung cancer. Below are the key findings for North Carolina:
- Survival: Lung cancer has one of the lowest five-year survival rates because cases are often diagnosed at later stages when it is less likely to be curable. North Carolina ranks (20 out of 45) among the average at 21.5%.
- Early Diagnosis: Nationally, only 21.5 % of cases are diagnosed at an early stage when the five-year survival rate is much higher (57.7%). Unfortunately, about 48.5% of cases are not caught until a late stage when the survival rate is only 6%. North Carolina ranks (29 out of 48) among the average at 21.2%.
- Surgical Treatment: Lung cancer can often be treated with surgery if it is diagnosed at an early stage and has not spread widely. Nationally, 20.6 % of cases underwent surgery. North Carolina ranks (23 out of 48) among the average at 19.3%.
- Lack of Treatment: There are multiple reasons why patients may not receive treatment. Some of these reasons may be unavoidable, but no one should go untreated because of lack of provider or patient knowledge, stigma associated with lung cancer, fatalism after diagnosis, or cost of treatment. Nationally, about 15.4% of cases receive no treatment. North Carolina ranks (14 out of 46) among the lowest at 13.8%.
- Screening and Prevention: Screening for lung cancer with annual low-dose CT scans among those who qualify can reduce the lung cancer death rate by up to 20%. Nationally, only 4.2% of those who qualify were screened. North Carolina ranked (14 out of 51) among the lowest with 6%.
Learn more about “State of Lung Cancer” at Lung.org/solc. For media interested in speaking with a medical expert about the “State of Lung Cancer” 2019 report or lung cancer survivor about their experience, contact Britney Stewart at the American Lung Association at Britney.Stewart@Lung.org or 470-233-7030.