Over the past five years, the five-year lung cancer survival rate in the United States has increased a significant 22%, according to a new report from the American Lung Association. But the number of people getting tested for lung cancer is still not enough, experts say.
About 26.6% of people who suffer from lung cancer survive at least five years after his initial diagnosis, Tuesday’s report says, up from 21.7% in 2016. The survival rate for people of color has also increased 17% over the past two years, but significant racial disparities in treatment, diagnosis and survival still exist, according to the report.
Black and Latino people with lung cancer are less likely than white patients to survive five years after an initial diagnosis. Compared with white patients, Latinos were 30% more likely to receive no treatment and were 9% less likely to survive, and blacks were 19% less likely to receive surgical treatment and 16% less likely to survive.
Asians and Pacific Islanders were 17% less likely to be diagnosed early, but were 17% more likely to receive surgical treatment and 14% more likely to survive five years than whites.
Lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. There have been recent advances in targeted therapy and immunotherapy, and more personalized treatments are becoming available. Experts say there are also a simple tool that could save many more lives: more people need to get tested.
Screening reduces lung cancer mortality rate by up to 20%, new report says.
As with any cancer, detecting lung cancer early can improve your chances of survival. Other research has shown that if diagnosed at an early stage, lung cancer has a five-year survival rate of almost 60%, which drops to 7% with late detection. Screening saves lives because people with lung cancer often have no symptoms until the cancer is so advanced that there are few options to help them.
Early symptoms of lung cancer can include a persistent cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, and a vague discomfort in the chest. Some people also develop a hoarse voice, cough up blood, lose taste for food, and lose weight unexpectedly.
According to the report, only about 4.5% of people at high risk for lung cancer undergo screening. But in some states, the number is much lower. In California, for example, only 0.7% of people at high risk for lung cancer are screened, although this number may be an undercount.
“There’s a lot more room for improvement,” said Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a volunteer medical spokesperson for the American Lung Association. “We hope that with the updated guidelines, more of the population that needs to be tested will be tested.”
The American Cancer Society recently expanded its screening recommendations to say that anyone between the ages of 50 and 80 should get tested for lung cancer if they currently smoke or have smoked in the past, no matter how long, at a rate of 20 pack-years. A pack-year is defined as smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year.
Galiatsatos, who is also director of the Tobacco Treatment Clinic and associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine, said he is optimistic that detection rates will improve. Unlike cancers like cervical and prostate cancer, which had decades of data to demonstrate the effectiveness of screening tests, Doctors have been encouraging people to get screened for lung cancer only in the last decade, he said.
Lung cancer guidelines have also been confusing, he said. Until the new change, people had to remember how long and how much they smoked in order to get screened for lung cancer. By comparison, doctors typically recommend a mammogram to screen for breast cancer only if someone is 45 years old or older. No other factors need to be calculated to qualify for the test.
The new report says that at the current rate, lung cancer screening adds 80,000 years of life to people in the U.S. and saves the U.S. economy $40 million. If everyone who was eligible got tested, it would add 500,000 life years and save the nation $500 million.
Getting screened for lung cancer is relatively easy, Galiatsatos said. Unlike a procedure like a colonoscopy that requires uncomfortable and often unpleasant preparation, lung cancer screening involves only a low-dose CT scan.
The best way to prevent cancer is to stop using tobacco, which is responsible for 80% to 90% of lung cancer cases, according to the report. says. Even people who have a long history of smoking can reduce their risk by becoming former smokers.
Galiatsatos said doctors should also ensure that high-risk patients People feel that their doctor’s office will be a safe space to get screenings and access smoking cessation programs.
“We haven’t done our best to promote what will help them, in a way that doesn’t make them feel stigmatized or judged,” he said. “People with lung cancer have often been told ‘you did this to yourself,’ and that’s really not fair to them.”
The second leading cause of lung cancer is exposure to radon, according to the CDC, a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that is released naturally from soil, water, and rocks. Gas can enter through cracks in a building and accumulate in the air over time. Over time, these radioactive particles can become trapped in the lungs and cause cancer.
Radon testing is available at many hardware stores. If a test shows a high level, the CDC recommends purchasing a radon reduction system, but you can also increase air flow in the home by keeping windows open, using fans to circulate air, and sealing cracks in floors and walls.
Exposure to particle pollution year-round can also cause lung cancer. A previous report from the American Lung Association found that 120 million people live in a part of the United States with high levels of this dangerous level of pollution. To reduce your exposure, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends using high-efficiency portable air purifiers and exhaust fans that go outside when cooking.