The 4th annual Women’s Lung Health Barometer results were released on November 1, 2017.
LUNG CANCER IN AMERICA
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., and despite its overwhelming impact, lung cancer remains a silent epidemic. The disease impacts a tremendous number of people (nearly a quarter million Americans are estimated to be diagnosed this year alone) and has a distressingly low five-year survival rate of only 18 percent. While there are many misconceptions about this disease, the fact is that anyone can get lung cancer. Every day, more than 400 friends, neighbors, and loved ones lose their lives to lung cancer, with a new diagnosis occurring every 2½ minutes.
The good news is that we have an opportunity to turn the tide against lung cancer with the new availability of lifesaving lung cancer screening for those at high risk for the disease. In fact, if only half of those eligible were screened, an estimated 15,000 lives could be saved. Despite this tremendous potential to save lives, less than 5 percent of those eligible have been screened.
The alarming statistics make it clear that we must do more to address this critical public health issue.
LUNG HEALTH BAROMETER: 4th ANNUAL REPORT
The American Lung Association’s 4th annual Lung Health Barometer – a survey of 1,400 adults that measures awareness, knowledge, and perceptions about lung cancer—seeks to better understand what Americans know about lung cancer and lung cancer screening. For the first time, this year’s Lung Health Barometer surveyed both men and women and included high-risk current and former smokers. Among the general and high-risk populations, the survey revealed a low awareness of the potential for lung cancer screening to save lives and a lack of general understanding of the impact of lung cancer.
LOW AWARENESS OF LIFESAVING LUNG CANCER SCREENING AMONG HIGH-RISK POPULATION
If lung cancer is caught before it spreads, the likelihood of survival increases from 11 to 55 percent. The low-dose CT scan is the only lung cancer screening tool that reduces the risk of dying from lung cancer by detecting the disease before it spreads. Today, there are an estimated 9 million Americans who qualify as high risk for lung cancer. Annual lung cancer screening is recommended for this group and is covered at no cost; however, according to the Barometer, only 15 percent of those at high risk are aware of this. In fact, 84 percent of those eligible are not familiar with the low-dose CT scan, and the main reason is that their doctors never recommended the scan.
This knowledge gap underscores the need for continued education among the high-risk population and physicians surrounding lung cancer and early detection, especially as the Barometer revealed that a doctor’s recommendation is the top motivator to be screened for lung cancer among high-risk groups. The low-dose CT scan provides an opportunity to save lives, making awareness of this powerful tool critical to defeating this deadly disease.
MEN HAVE A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE IMPACT OF LUNG CANCER
Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in the United States, claiming more lives than any other cancer; however, this statistic is widely unknown – especially among women. According to the Barometer, only 28 percent of women are aware of this fact compared to 41 percent of men. In terms of awareness of lung cancer detection, the Barometer revealed nearly 80 percent of women have not heard of any screening method for lung cancer—the largest awareness gap among all audiences surveyed.
WOMEN ARE BECOMING MORE INFORMED, BUT MORE WORK NEEDS TO BE DONE
Despite the fact that many women do not know that lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths, there have been encouraging shifts in women’s perceptions of lung cancer since the first Lung Health Barometer in 2014. Since inception, women have become 8 percentage points more likely to have spoken to their doctor about lung cancer (26% vs. 18% in 2014). However, only 3 percent of women cite lung cancer as a top-of-mind health concern—awareness is too low and most women (64%) still believe that not enough is being done to increase awareness of lung cancer.
MORE LUNG CANCER RESEARCH FUNDING IS NEEDED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Unfortunately, the reality is that the majority of lung cancer cases are not diagnosed until later stages when treatment options are limited. Only 16 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed early when the disease is most treatable. According to the Barometer findings, an overwhelming amount (91%) of the general population agreed that new early detection tools for lung cancer should be developed to increase the chances of survival and 62 percent believe that not enough is being done to raise awareness of the disease.
More than 150,000 Americans are expected to lose their lives to lung cancer this year alone. Policymakers should support more research funding for ways to screen everyone for lung cancer – a sentiment almost all (92%) audiences in the Barometer agreed with. Lung cancer research must be prioritized in our nation’s cancer research agenda, starting with robust and sustained federal funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The American Lung Association advocates for a significant increase in the NIH’s overall research budget and is calling on the NIH to increase funding for lung cancer research from $331M in 2016 to $450 million by 2020. Research priorities should include better ways to detect lung cancer at an earlier, curable stage and improved treatments for all stages of lung cancer.
Lung cancer has been overlooked for far too long and since launching in 2014, LUNG FORCE has made strides to change this standard. LUNG FORCE has helped to shed light on the reality of this disease by raising awareness, educating Americans and changing perceptions of lung cancer—but our work is not done. LUNG FORCE remains steadfast in its fight against lung cancer and will continue to raise the awareness and critical funding needed to defeat this deadly disease.