Lung Association finds low-dose CT screenings underused but cancer survival improving

More than 16% of eligible individuals get screened for lung cancer in Massachusetts. Only 1% do so in California. The national average is unfortunately closer to the latter extreme, at 5.8%.

These are among the key findings presented in the American Lung Association’s 2022 “State of Lung Cancer Report” published Nov. 15.

In announcing the report’s release, the group points out that, going by guidelines from the US Preventive Services Task Force, 14.2 million Americans should be screened annually with low-dose CT.

What’s more, for those who meet the USPSTF criteria for being at high risk, screenings are fully covered by Medicare and most private payers, the ALA reminds.

Noting that around 237,000 U.S. residents will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year, the association lays out some telling trends and numbers in the new report.

Among these:

> 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 25%. In the period covered by the new report, calendar year 2021, survival rates were the best in Rhode Island at 30.8%. Oklahoma ranked worst at 19.7%.

> Nationally, only 25.8% of cases are diagnosed at an early stage when the five-year survival rate is much higher (61%). Unfortunately, 44% of cases are not caught until a late stage when the survival rate is only 7%. In 2021, early diagnosis rates were best in Massachusetts (31.9%) and worst in Hawaii (19.5%).

> Lung cancer can often be treated with surgery if it is diagnosed at an early stage and has not spread. Nationally, 20.8% of cases underwent surgery in 2021.

> 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, 20.6% of cases receive no treatment.

> Health disparities are a factor, as people of color who are diagnosed with lung cancer face worse outcomes compared to white Americans, including lower survival rate, less likely to be diagnosed early, less likely to receive surgical treatment and more likely to receive no treatment.

Despite the disappointing screening rates, ALA leadership sees reason for optimism heading into 2023.

“[O]ur new report revealed continued progress for lung cancer survival,” says Harold Wimmer, the association’s national president and CEO, adding that the lung cancer five-year survival rate hit 25% last year and increased 21% from 2014 to 2018.

“Increased lung cancer survival is attributable to advancements in research, better treatments and other factors,” Wimmer says. “However, lung cancer screening is the most immediate opportunity we have to save lives. If you are eligible for lung cancer screening, we encourage you to speak with your doctor about it. If a loved one is eligible, please encourage them to get screened.”

Full report available here.

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