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Lung Cancer Facts and Statistics

Medically reviewed by Todd Gersten, M.D.
Written by Ryan Chiu, M.D.
Posted on June 23, 2021

Lung cancer is a challenging diagnosis, and it helps to be informed about the disease. Here, we share important facts and statistics surrounding lung cancer, what types there are, how lung cancer is usually diagnosed and treated, and numbers surrounding the outlook for people living with this condition.

Prevalence of Lung Cancer

  • Lung cancer is the second most common type of cancer for both men and women, after prostate cancer for men and breast cancer for women.
  • Men have higher incidence rates of lung cancer than women. Men are more likely to be diagnosed with new lung cancer cases — 1 in 15 men versus 1 in 17 women.
  • New cases of lung cancer in men have slowly decreased, but cases in women have been increasing significantly, almost doubling over the past four decades.
  • Lung cancer rates among Black women have increased significantly compared to those among white women.
  • Among ethnic groups in the United States, Black individuals and those of Hawaiian descent are most likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer.

Types of Lung Cancer

  • Approximately 15 percent of lung cancers are small cell lung cancer (SCLC).
  • Approximately 85 percent of lung cancers are known as non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which includes adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma.
  • Adenocarcinomas are the most common form of NSCLC and are especially common in nonsmokers who get lung cancer.

Risk Factors

  • Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer and explains 80 percent to 90 percent of all lung cancer cases.
  • Not smoking or quitting smoking is the best method for lung cancer prevention.
  • Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals other than just nicotine, and at least 70 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer.
  • Secondhand smoke (exposure to tobacco smoke from people around you) also increases the risk of lung cancer.
  • Nearly 1 in every 15 homes in America has high levels of radon — a tasteless, odorless, and colorless gas that is the second leading risk factor for lung cancer.
  • Asbestos exposure also increases the risk of lung cancer, as well as mesothelioma, another type of cancer.
  • Increased air pollution from vehicles, power plants, and other industrial sources can also put people at high risk of lung cancer.

Detection and Staging

  • The average age at lung cancer diagnosis is around 70 years, and most people are older than 65 when they are diagnosed.
  • There is no good, regular screening test for early detection of lung cancer, except for annual low-dose CT scans for certain people between 50 and 80 years of age who currently smoke or have recently quit.
  • NSCLC has six stages (occult, and 0 through 4), with higher numbers indicating more extensive disease.
  • SCLC is staged as either limited or extensive.

Treatment Options

  • Small cell lung cancer is usually managed with chemotherapy and radiation alone, without surgery.
  • Cancer care for NSCLC may include surgery to remove and cure cancer.
  • Most people with lung cancer are given an opportunity to participate in a clinical trial involving new potential treatments.

Outcome and Survival Statistics

  • Five-year survival rates for individuals with lung cancer are currently about 1 in 5 people, with less than half surviving past a year after diagnosis.
  • When detected early, survival rates are much higher. More than half of people with localized lung cancer survive past five years.
  • Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, causing almost 25 percent of all cancer deaths.
  • Lung cancer death rates have dropped significantly over the past several years. Almost half of the total decrease in cancer deaths in the United States is attributed to decreases in lung cancer deaths.

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Posted on June 23, 2021
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Todd Gersten, M.D. is a hematologist-oncologist at the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute in Wellington, Florida. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Ryan Chiu, M.D. obtained his medical degree from the University of Illinois College of Medicine in 2021. Learn more about him here.

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