American Lung Association Spotlights Two Leading Causes of Death in the U.S.

November is National Lung Cancer Awareness Month and COPD Awareness Month

Washington, D.C. (November 1, 2011)

Lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are two of the deadliest diseases in the country, yet they remain largely unnoticed. Throughout November—Lung Cancer Awareness Month and COPD Awareness Month—the American Lung Association is spotlighting these overlooked lung diseases to increase public understanding and encourage action to help prevent and treat them.

“Lung cancer and COPD are two of the most life-changing and life-threatening diseases in the country,” said Norman H. Edelman, M.D., chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. “There is no better time than now to learn about these diseases and support patients and loved ones who are affected by them.”

As part of the Lung Associations’ commitment to lung health, COPD and lung cancer are featured on its website throughout the year to raise awareness and provide lung health resources. The Lung Association has also partnered with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and others on NHLBI’s COPD Learn More Breathe Better® campaign to educate the public about the early symptoms and signs of COPD.

Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in the country, while COPD—which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis—is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

Approximately 373,500 Americans are living with lung cancer. In 2011, more than 221,000 new cases were diagnosed and about 157,000 Americans were expected to die from lung cancer.

The leading cause of lung cancer is the inhalation of cigarette smoke—firsthand and secondhand. Other causes include radon exposure and industrial exposures to hazardous materials like asbestos and arsenic; even some genetic factors pose a lung cancer risk.

“Lung cancer is responsible for nearly 30 percent of all cancer deaths in America—more than any other cancer,” said Dr. Edelman. “That startling reality must change. No one deserves to bear the burden of lung cancer. We need all Americans to understand the severity of lung cancer and do what they can to help prevent it and support the fight for a cure.”

COPD is a lung disease characterized by an obstruction to airflow that interferes with normal breathing and over time makes it very difficult to breathe. While more than 12 million Americans are known to have COPD, up to 24 million may have the disease because it often goes undiagnosed. COPD is not curable; however it is preventable, and can be treated and managed on a daily basis. People at risk of COPD, especially current and former smokers with COPD symptoms, should consult their physicians about a spirometry test in order to diagnose the disease as early as possible and begin treatment.

As with lung cancer, the primary cause of COPD is the inhalation of cigarette smoke. Other causes include exposure to occupational dust particles and chemicals, as well as a rare genetic mutation called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency.

“COPD can be treated and managed effectively, particularly when the disease is diagnosed early,” said Dr. Edelman. “Treatments and comprehensive care can decrease COPD symptoms, reduce hospitalizations and enhance overall quality of life. Patients should confer with their physicians for ways to reduce symptoms and diminish further serious damage to their lungs.”

The American Lung Association funds research that focuses on preventing lung cancer, increasing the survival rate and reducing its effects on patients’ quality of life.

The Lung Association is calling for increased NIH research funding to address lung cancer at the National Cancer Institute and COPD at the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. The Lung Association encourages Americans to contact their respective senators and representative and urge them to support this effort.

To learn more about these diseases or to take action, visit


About the American Lung Association
The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases.  For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: