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American Lung Association's 'State of Lung Cancer' 2019 Report Finds West Virginia Must Act to Reduce Burden of Lung Cancer

Second annual report from American Lung Association explores how states can act to save more lives, support patients and families facing lung cancer

(November 13, 2019) -

For more information please contact:

Valerie Gleason
[email protected]
717-971-1123

Charleston, WV — Lung cancer is the #1 cancer killer of women and men in the United States. While it’s estimated that 2,010 West Virginia 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 West Virginia, the survival rate is among the worst at 18.2%. 

“While we celebrate that more Americans than ever are surviving lung cancer, the disease remains the leading cause of cancer deaths,” said Sarah Lawver, Director of Advocacy, WV, PA, American Lung Association. “The State of Lung Cancer” report finds that West Virginia has some of the worst rates for new lung cancer cases, and smoking among adults; it also ranks among the lowest for five-year survival, surgical treatment, lack of treatment after diagnosis and screening. Much more can and must be done in West Virginia to prevent lung cancer and support families facing the disease.”

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. This simple screening test has been available since 2015, yet only 2.4% of those eligible in West Virginia (among the lowest in the nation) were screened in 2018. The low screening rate is particularly significant as West Virginia has the highest percent of adults who currently smoke―and a smoking history is part of the criteria for being screened. While anyone can get lung cancer, smoking is the number one risk factor and is responsible for about 90% of lung cancer cases.  

“This simple test―lung cancer screening―is a powerful tool to save lives,” said Lawver. “Yet we’re only seeing a fraction of those who qualify actually getting screened. We’re pushing for greater awareness of this test along with more tobacco prevention and control programs to save lives here in West Virginia.”

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 that West Virginia can and must do more to protect residents from lung cancer. Below are the key findings for West Virginia:

New cases: More than 228,000 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year with the rate of new cases varying by state. The report finds that Utah has the nation’s lowest lung cancer rates while Kentucky has the highest (92.6 per 100,000). West Virginia is second to Kentucky with a new case incidence rate of 79.6 per 100,000 people.

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. West Virginia ranks as one of the worst in the nation with 18.2% of cases still alive five years after diagnosis. 

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%. West Virginia ranks average with 22.5% of cases diagnosed at an early stage.

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. West Virginia ranks below average with 18.8% of cases undergoing surgery as part of their first course of treatment.

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. West Virginia ranks among the worst with 20.3% of cases receiving no treatment after being diagnosed―compared to neighboring state Virginia who ranks among the best with 11.7% receiving no treatment.

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. West Virginia ranked among the lowest with only 2.4% receiving screening in 2018.   

“On average, the higher prevalence of smoking, the more lung cancer cases in a state. Smoking and secondhand smoke are both risk factors for lung cancer. West Virginia has the second highest lung cancer rate, which parallels its high smoking rates. Greater targeted tobacco control prevention efforts along with high risk screening and radon testing and mitigation are needed to reduce lung cancer burden and mortality in West Virginia,” said Lawver.

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 Valerie Gleason at the American Lung Association at [email protected] or 717-971-1123.

Background on the Report 

The American Lung Association’s “State of Lung Cancer” 2019 is the second report we have released on key lung cancer statistics for each state. The 2019 report uses data from the North American Association of Central Cancer Registries (NAACCR), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and American College of Radiology (ACR), among other sources. Analysis of this data is conducted by the American Lung Association Epidemiology and Statistics team.

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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 coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.

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