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Awareness, Early Detection Key to Reducing the Toll of Lung Cancer in California

First of its kind report highlights need to better support lung cancer patients and those at high risk for the #1 cancer killer of men and women

(February 28, 2018) - SACRAMENTO, Calif.

This year, nearly 19,000 people in California will be diagnosed with lung cancer. That's two Californians every hour of every day. A new report from the American Lung Association shows that reduced smoking rates and increased awareness of early diagnosis and lung cancer screenings can improve survival rates.

"We want to defeat lung cancer and give hope to families facing this diagnosis," said Vanessa Marvin, Vice President, Public Policy and Advocacy for the American Lung Association in California. "The focus must be on continuing to raise awareness of the dangers of tobacco use and ensure preventative health services and treatment options are available."

"I lost my mother to lung cancer last year when she was just 51 years old. She started smoking when she was 15. It was a different generation and they didn't think smoking was bad," said Daisy Vargas, a college student from Compton, California. "When she was diagnosed, we didn't know anything, we were just searching online to try to find information. There's just not a strong awareness about lung cancer and we need to work to change that."

In its first year, the LUNG FORCE "State of Lung Cancer" report finds that tobacco use and early screenings play a big part in lung cancer diagnoses and survival rates. By better understanding the impact of lung cancer, we can enact policies and focus attention on where the need is greatest. The report covers the following measures of lung cancer burden, and shows where California ranks in comparison to the rest of the United States:

  • Incidence: California has one of the lowest rates of new lung cancer cases in the nation with a lung cancer incidence of 48.6 per 100,000 people. Much of that can be attributed to a lower prevalence of smoking. In California, the rate of adults who smoke is just 11.7 percent compared to the national rate of over 16 percent. However, there are additional risk factors associated with lung cancer including exposure to air pollution and secondhand smoke.
  • Survival Rate: Lung cancer is often caught when it’s too late, making it more difficult to treat. In California, the rate of survival five years after someone is diagnosed with lung cancer is just 20.1 percent, right around the national average.
  • Stage at Diagnosis: People diagnosed at early stages of lung cancer are five times more likely to survive. Unfortunately, in California, only 18.5 percent of lung cancer cases were diagnosed at early stages, when it is most likely to be curable.
  • Screening Centers: The availability of accredited lung cancer screening sites is positively related to survival of lung cancer. However, California ranks among the lowest in the nation with just 2.4 screening centers per million people, well below the national average.
  • Surgical Treatment: Lung cancer is more likely to be curable if the tumor can be surgically removed, and surgery is more likely to be an option if the diagnosis is made at an early stage before the cancer has spread. In California, 20.9 percent of cases underwent surgery as part of the first course of treatment, right in line with the national average.

Raising awareness about early screening can dramatically improve these statistics. The American Lung Association’s Saved by the Scan campaign highlights the importance of early screening and the criteria for low-dose CT scans that can save lives. More information can be found at

Next month, American Lung Association LUNG FORCE Heroes from all 50 states will be heading to Washington, D.C. to share their stories with their representatives in Congress. Vickie Guerrero Dresbach, a lung cancer survivor from Perris in Riverside County, will represent California.

"When I was diagnosed in 2014, I was shocked. I never smoked so how could I have lung cancer? I was one of those people that thought only smokers got lung cancer," Dresbach said. "Living and working in Los Angeles, I'd been exposed to secondhand smoke and poor air quality for decades. Now I'm a survivor and I believe California needs to continue pushing smokefree policies and reduced vehicle emissions to further improve our air quality."

Dresbach and other LUNG FORCE Heroes will use the information from this new "State of Lung Cancer" report to ask Congress to support increased funding for the National Institutes of Health for better treatment and early detection of lung cancer, as well as sharing why quality, affordable health care is especially important for lung cancer patients.

"This is the first time we’ve ever released a report looking at lung cancer," said Marvin. "Now we have the facts and it's time to focus on the solutions."

For media interested in speaking with an expert about the "State of Lung Cancer" report, please contact the American Lung Association in California at [email protected] or (916) 585-7666.


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:

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