Lung cancer is the top cancer killer in the United States. However, The American Lung Association's "State of Lung Cancer" 2019 report finds that the burden of lung cancer varies by state.
The report, released Wednesday, finds New York ranks above average for life-saving lung cancer screening. It’s estimated that 13,380 New Yorkers will be diagnosed with the disease in 2019 alone, but fortunately New York leads the nation for 5-year survival rates at 26.4%, tying Connecticut for the best rate in the country. Elizabeth Hamlin is the American Lung Association’s Director of Advocacy in New York, MAssachusetts and Vermont. "New York is definitely doing a few things right. First, getting a diagnosis that is early, is key, because the sooner you are detected to have lung cancer but through screening, then it is easier to treat, now we have better CT scans and better treatment options. The options for treatment have become more targeted if you can get in if you're at high risk then your survival rates are much better. And also probably the best treatment option right now is surgery to remove the cancer. If it's caught later your chances of having that treatment are less successful."
The report shows the nationwide five-year lung cancer survival rate is 21.7 percent, up from 17.2 percent a decade ago. Dr. Robert Zielenski is a Buffalo-based oncologist. "The most important or disturbing take-home from the report is the very low rate of screening that's getting done in the high-risk population. I was happy to see that New York state ranks highly across the country in terms of early diagnosis of lung cancer and survivability of lung cancer. We are doing better on five-year survival rates than much of the country, but that seems to be proof of the adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, because we've been more successful than average in getting people to quit smoking, and getting away from tobacco dependency is very important. The most important thing. We'd much rather have people not getting cancer than figuring out how to find it early. But we could do even better if we could get the risk population, those who have smoked who are of the proper age, into screening."
Nationwide, the rate of lung cancer between 2012 and 2016 was 59.6 cases per 100,000 people. Those rates varied by state -- ranging from 27.1 in Utah to 92.6 in Kentucky. Closer to home, Hamlin says New York's neighbors are faring well. Hamlin says Vermont ranks 29th out of 51 for the rate of new lung cancer cases, but has a worse-than-average record for patients receiving no care or no treatment. The study included information from all 50 states and D.C. "In 2019, 510 Vermonters were diagnosed with lung cancer. 22.7 cases diagnosed at an early stage, so Vermont is about 12 out of 45 for a 5-year lung cancer survival rate, 23.1 of patients surviving five years past diagnosis."
Massachusetts leads the nation in the percentage of high-risk patients receiving screening and patients treated with surgery. The Bay State is number two when it comes to early diagnosis. "While Massachusetts is doing really well, they of course have a long way to go and lots of work to do. Massachusetts is ranked 28 out of 51 for the rate of new lung cancer cases, with 5,150 Massachusetts residents expected to be diagnosed with lung cancer in 2019 alone."
Zielenski is calling for more screenings. "Getting the awareness out there that we do have CT screening capability now that is low-dose radiation exposure and has been proven effective in making an early diagnosis of lung cancer to improve survivability is very important. Those who are 55 years and older, if you've had 30 years of smoking or more and if you're still smoking or if you've quit within the last 15 years, these are people who should be getting annual screening CT scans."