New Report: Kentucky Has Highest Lung Cancer Rates in the Nation, Bottom of List in Survival, Early Diagnosis

Annual report by Lung Association examines toll of lung cancer on Kentucky

Today, the American Lung Association released the annual “State of Lung Cancer” Report, which indicates that Kentucky continues to have the highest lung cancer rates in the country. The state also ranks 42nd (out of 46) in survival rates, and 45th (out of 49) in early diagnosis rates.

The 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. The third annual report finds that more Americans are surviving the disease, as the nationwide five-year lung cancer survival rate of 22.6% reflects a 13% improvement over the past five years.

“While we celebrate that more Americans are surviving lung cancer, too many people are being left behind, and the disease still remains the leading cause of cancer deaths,” said Shannon Baker, Advocacy Director for the Lung Association. “Much more can and must be done in Kentucky to prevent the disease and support those facing it. It is critically important that our elected officials repeal the state law that prohibits city and county governments from passing local tobacco control ordinances. Local governments are closest to the residents of our communities and can assess whether additional restrictions on tobacco sales could be needed to protect our kids. Restoring funding in the state budget for the tobacco control program is also important because it provides support for people who want to quit.”

Lung cancer is the nation’s leading cause of cancer deaths, and it’s estimated that 4.890 Kentucky residents will be diagnosed with this disease in 2020 alone.

Part of the reason that lung cancer is so deadly is because most cases are diagnosed at a later stage, after the disease has spread. Lung cancer screening is the key to catching lung cancer early when the disease is most curable, but only 22.9% of lung cancer cases nationally are diagnosed at an early stage. While this simple screening test has been available since 2015, only 11.7% of those eligible in Kentucky have been screened.

“Lung cancer screening is a powerful tool that save lives,” said Baker. “It’s a relatively new test, and we’re only seeing a fraction of those who qualify actually getting screened. We’re pushing for greater awareness of this test to save more lives here in Kentucky.”

The "State of Lung Cancer" report finds that the burden of lung cancer varies by state. By better understanding the impact of lung cancer across the nation, efforts and policies can be focused where the needs are greatest. Below are the key findings for Kentucky:

  • Incidence: Incidence refers to the number of new cases of lung cancer in each state. On average, the higher prevalence of smoking, the more lung cancer cases in a state. The national lung cancer incidence rate is 58.7. Kentucky has the highest lung cancer incidence rate in the nation, at a rate of 91.4% people out of 100,000 people – Bottom.
  • 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. Kentucky ranks 42nd worst in the nation (out of 47 states with available data) for survival rates at 18.4% – Bottom.
  • Early Diagnosis: Nationally, only 22.9% of cases are diagnosed at an early stage when the survival rate is much higher. Kentucky ranks 45th in the nation at 19.8% – Bottom.
  • 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. Kentucky ranks 23rd in the nation at 19.9% – Average.
  • 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 15.2% of cases receive no treatment. Kentucky ranks 6th in the nation at 10.7% – Above Average.
  • 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 5.7% of those who qualify were screened. Kentucky ranked 4th with 11.7% – Above Average.

Learn more about the "State of Lung Cancer" at For media interested in speaking with a lung cancer expert about advances in lung cancer and the "State of Lung Cancer" 2020 report or a lung cancer survivor about their experience, contact James A. Martinez at the American Lung Association at [email protected] or 312-445-2501.

For more information, contact:

James A. Martinez
(312) 445-2501
[email protected]

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