Despite being the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., lung cancer isn't always on everyone's radar. Learning more about lung cancer can help you better understand the disease, its risk factors and treatment. To help spread the word during Lung Cancer Awareness Month, with the help of Dr. Albert Rizzo, the American Lung Association’s Chief Medical Officer, here are some facts everyone should know about the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer.
FACT: Lung Cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.
Lung cancer is one of the most common cancers in the U.S., with someone being diagnosed about every two and a half minutes. There are a variety of risk factors associated with lung cancer, including smoking, exposure to radon gas, air pollution and secondhand smoke. The truth is that anyone can get lung cancer, and no one deserves the disease. In 2022 alone, it is estimated that 237,000 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer.
FACT: Survival rates are low, but they are improving
While the disease remains the leading cause of cancer deaths among both women and men, over the past five years, the survival rate has increased 21% to 25%. According to the 2022 State of Lung Cancer Report, only 26% of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage when the five-year survival rate is much higher (61%). Unfortunately, 44% of cases are not caught until a late stage when the survival rate is only 7%. Fortunately, the early diagnosis rate for lung cancer has increased by 17% over the past five years.
FACT: Racial disparities exist in lung cancer
People of color who are diagnosed with lung cancer face worse outcomes compared to white Americans because they are less likely to be diagnosed early, less likely to receive surgical treatment, and more likely to not receive any treatment. Sadly, systemic issues contribute to health disparities, including for those facing lung cancer. More than half of the 31 million uninsured Americans are people of color, and research is clear that having health coverage impacts people’s medical care and ultimately their health outcomes. Addressing racial disparities in healthcare coverage is critical to addressing racial disparities in lung cancer care.
FACT: Lung cancer screening and research has the potential to save thousands of lives
Screening individuals at high risk has the potential to dramatically improve lung cancer survival rates by finding the disease at an earlier stage when it is more likely to be curable. Early detection by low-dose CT screening can decrease mortality by up to 20%.
In addition to screening with low-dose CT scans annually, researchers continue to develop new drugs and treatments that can improve survival. Patients can undergo comprehensive biomarker testing to identify treatments that are more effective for their specific lung cancer. If doctors know exactly what causes the tumor to grow, a patient may be able to go on a "targeted" therapy that can slow tumor growth or shrink the tumor.
FACT: There are many resources available to those with lung cancer
Many health institutions offer resources for lung cancer patients, such as support groups and educational programs. The American Lung Association’s LUNG FORCE initiative provides information for patients, caregivers and physicians, and works to increase awareness regarding lung cancer. The American Lung Association has a wealth of trusted and relevant information for patients, caregivers, loved ones and anyone interested in finding out more about their risk for lung cancer.
For more information about lung cancer, treatment options, how to get involved and more, visit Lung.org/lung-cancer.
Blog last updated: August 23, 2023