Report: More People are Surviving Lung Cancer in the U.S.

Lung cancer still remains the leading cause of cancer death nationwide, but the American Lung Association released data on Wednesday that gives hope that the tide may be turning.

According to the ALA’s State of Lung Cancer, during the last decade in the U.S.:

  • The rate of new lung cancer cases diagnosed dropped by 19%.
  • The five-year survival rate for lung cancer patients climbed 26%.

The Five-Year Lung Cancer Survival Rate

The rate of people, still alive five years after being diagnosed – is now 21.7 percent, up from 17.2 percent a decade ago. (1)

Now, 1-in-5 odds for survival is not a game-changer ­– but it does show significant improvement and rings the bell for early detection. Most lung cancer cases are diagnosed at later stages when cancer has spread to other organs. In these cases, treatment options are less likely to be curative (and survival is lower).

The stage at which someone is diagnosed with lung cancer varies significantly by state. The initial diagnosis rate was highest for Wyoming (28.1%) and lowest for Alaska (16.6%).

The American Lung Association suggests if everyone currently eligible were screened, close to 48, 000 lives could be saved. For those ages 55-80 with a 30 pack-year history who still smoke or have quit within the last 15 years, screening with annual low-dose CT scans can reduce the lung cancer death rate by up to 20% by detecting tumors at early stages when the cancer is more likely to be curable.

Lung cancer is more likely to be curable if the tumor can be removed through surgery, and surgery is more likely to be an option if the diagnosis is made at an early stage before cancer has widely spread. Nationally, 20.6% of cases underwent surgery as part of the first course of treatment, ranging from 30.5% in Massachusetts to 13.5% in New Mexico.

Still, not every patient receives treatment after being diagnosed with lung cancer – the tumor has spread too far, poor health, or refusal of treatment – but no one should go untreated because of a lack of provider or cost of treatment.

Some lung cancer patients will not receive any form of treatment for legitimate medical or personal reasons, but additional factors may contribute, like access issues. The percent of patients who receive no treatment is 15.4% nationally, ranging from 8.0% in North Dakota to 30.4% in Arizona.

However, patients who are not healthy enough to undergo surgery or whose cancer has spread too far may be recommended chemotherapy, radiation, targeted therapy, or immunotherapy.

Despite understanding risk factors, the cause of lung cancer is not clear for some patients. If you have concerns about your risk, it is essential to mention this to your doctor.

Leading Lung Cancer Risk Factors:

Tobacco use is the leading risk factor for lung cancer, accounting for 80-90% of cases. Secondhand smoke also has been shown to cause lung cancer.

Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, is the second leading cause of lung cancer and the leading cause among nonsmokers. Radon is a colorless and odorless gas that can seep into homes and buildings. Some geographical areas have naturally higher radon rates than others, but any home can have elevated levels.

Particle pollution in the air also has been shown to cause lung cancer. The 2019 “State of the Air” reported that in 2015-2017, more cities had high days of ozone and short-term particle pollution compared to 2014-2016, and many cities measured increased levels of year-round particle pollution. (2)

The report also noted Medicaid beneficiaries are disproportionately affected by lung cancer. Did you know, Medicaid programs are one of the only healthcare payers not required to cover lung cancer screening. If screening is covered, Medicaid programs may use different eligibility criteria, require prior authorization, or charge individuals for their scans.

As of January 2019, 31 state Medicaid fee-for-service programs covered lung cancer screening for those at high risk, 12 did not, and seven had no information available.

In states where fee-for-service Medicaid plans covered screening, only 4.8% of those at high risk had been screened, compared to 2.6% in states that did not include testing. Coverage may also vary between fee-for-service and managed care plans within a state’s Medicaid program.

Your financial situation may dictate decisions regarding cancer treatments. But do not allow cancer treatments to lead to financial hardship. This vicious cycle – questioning yourself while trying to save your life – can result in “financial toxicity.” There are means to pay for your treatment, and LifeGuide Partners can help you navigate those financial decisions.



(1) State of Lung Cancer.

(2) State of the Air.

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