PORTSMOUTH — Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer of women and men in the United States.
While it’s estimated that 1,140 New Hampshire residents will be diagnosed with this disease in 2019 alone, fortunately more Americans than ever are surviving the disease according to a new report from the American Lung Association.
The annual “State of Lung Cancer” report examines the toll of lung cancer throughout the nation, and outlines steps every state can take to better protect its residents from lung cancer. This year’s “State of Lung Cancer” seeks to continue the positive trend of increased lung cancer survival, as the nationwide five-year lung cancer survival rate of 21.7 percent, up from 17.2 percent a decade ago, reflects a 26 percent improvement over the past 10 years. In New Hampshire, the survival rate is among the top at 24.8 percent.
“While we celebrate that more Americans than ever are surviving lung cancer, the disease remains the leading cause of cancer deaths, and much more can and must be done in New Hampshire to prevent the disease and support families facing the disease,” said Lance Boucher, senior division director for state public policy for the American Lung Association. “While New Hampshire shows some of the most promising data on survival rates, we still need to do more when it comes to awareness and early detection.”
Part of the reason that lung cancer is so deadly is because most lung cancer cases are diagnosed at a later stage, after the disease has spread.
Lung cancer screening is the key to early detection, when the disease is most curable, but only 21.5 percent of lung cancer cases nationally are diagnosed at an early stage.
While this simple screening test has been available since 2015, 11.3 percent of those eligible in New Hampshire have been screened, giving it a ranking of No. 3 in the nation, behind Massachusetts and Vermont.
Dr. William C. Black, chest radiologist and director of lung cancer screening at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center said, “This simple test — lung cancer screening — is a powerful tool to prevent lung cancer deaths, and yet we’re only seeing a fraction of those who qualify actually getting screened. We are working to bring more awareness of screenings to the general public, but also to continue to push the medical community to offer these screenings to high risk patients.”
The “State of Lung Cancer” 2019 report finds that the burden of lung cancer varies state by state. This year’s report finds New Hampshire can and must do more to protect residents from lung cancer. Below are the key findings for New Hampshire:
• Survival: 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. New Hampshire has one of the best survival rales in the nation at 24.8 percent.
• Early diagnosis: Nationally, only 21.5 percent of cases are diagnosed at an early stage when the five-year survival rate is much higher (57.7 percent). Unfortunately, about 48.5 percent of cases are not caught until a late stage when the survival rate is only 6 percent. In New Hampshire 22.5 percent of cases are diagnosed at an early stage.
• Surgical treatment: Lung cancer can often be treated with surgery if it is diagnosed at an early stage and has not spread widely. Nationally, 20.6 percent of cases underwent surgery. New Hampshire ranks at No. 6 with 25.2 percent cases treated with surgery.
• Lack of treatment: There are multiple reasons why patients may not receive treatment. 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, about 15.4 percent of cases receive no treatment. New Hampshire ranks better than the national average with only 11 percent of cases not receiving treatment.
• Screening and prevention: Screening for lung cancer with annual low-dose CT scans among those who qualify can reduce the lung cancer death rate by up to 20 percent. Nationally, only 4.2 percent of those who qualify were screened. In New Hampshire, 11.8 percent of high risk patients are screened, placing it as the third best state for performing screenings.
Learn more about “State of Lung Cancer” at lung.org/solc.