The new “State of Lung Cancer” report reveals that the lung cancer five-year survival rate increased 14.5% nationally to 23.7% yet remains significantly lower among communities of color. The American Lung Association’s 4th annual report, released today, highlights how the toll of lung cancer varies by state and examines key indicators throughout the U.S. including: new cases, survival, early diagnosis, surgical treatment, lack of treatment and screening rates.
According to the report, in addition to lower survival rates, people of color who are diagnosed with lung cancer face worse outcomes compared to whites, including less likely to be diagnosed early, less likely to receive surgical treatment and more likely to receive no treatment. This is the second year that the “State of Lung Cancer” report explores the lung cancer burden among racial and ethnic minority groups at the national and state levels.
“The report highlights important news – more people are surviving lung cancer; however, it also underscores the fact that, sadly, health disparities persist for communities of color. In fact, while the national lung cancer survival rate increased to 23.7%, it remains at only 20% for communities of color and 18% for Black Americans. Everyone deserves the opportunity to lead a full and healthy life, so more must be done to address these health disparities,” said Harold Wimmer, National President and CEO for the Lung Association.
Close to 236,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year. The 2021 “State of Lung Cancer” report found the following national trends in survival rates, early diagnosis, and treatment of the disease:
- Survival Rate: 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. The national average of people alive five years after a lung cancer diagnosis is 23.7%. Survival rates were the best in Connecticut at 28.8%, while Alabama ranked worst at 18.4%.
- Early Diagnosis: Nationally, only 24% of cases are diagnosed at an early stage when the five-year survival rate is much higher (60%). Unfortunately, 46% of cases are not caught until a late stage when the survival rate is only 6%. Early diagnosis rates were best in Massachusetts (30%), and worst in Hawaii (19%).
- Lung Cancer Screening: Lung cancer screening with annual low-dose CT scans for those at high risk can reduce the lung cancer death rate by up to 20%. Nationally, only 5.7% of those at high risk were screened. Massachusetts has the highest screening rate at 17.8%, while California and Wyoming have the lowest at 1.0%.
- Surgery as First Course of Treatment: Lung cancer can often be treated with surgery if it is diagnosed at an early stage and has not spread. Nationally, only 20.7% of cases underwent surgery.
- Lack of Treatment: There are multiple reasons why patients may not receive treatment after diagnosis. 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, 21.1% of cases receive no treatment.
- Medicaid Coverage: Fee-for-service state Medicaid programs are one of the only healthcare payers not required to cover lung cancer screening for high-risk populations. The Lung Association analyzed lung cancer screening coverage policies in state Medicaid fee-for-service programs to assess the current status of lung cancer screening coverage for the Medicaid population and found that 40 states’ Medicaid fee-for-service programs cover lung cancer screening, seven programs do not provide coverage, and three states did not have information available on their coverage policy.
While the “State of Lung Cancer” report findings show significant work to be done, there is hope. In March of 2021, the United States Preventive Services Task Force expanded its recommendation for screening to include a larger age range and more current or former smokers. This dramatically increased the number of women and Black Americans who are eligible for lung cancer screening.
The Lung Association encourages everyone to join the effort to end lung cancer. Go to Lung.org/solc to learn more about lung cancer in your state and sign our petition to increase funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect our nation’s health from disease, including lung cancer.
For current and former smokers, there are lifesaving resources. Find out if you are eligible for lung cancer screening at SavedByTheScan.org, and then talk to your doctor about getting screened.