Inside the numbers
Data from the American Lung Association shows men have higher rates of smoking which leads to lung cancer risk.
Lung cancer is the second most common cancer for both men and women in the U.S. Recent studies show that in 2017, approximately 222,500 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed and nearly 156,000 people will die from this disease.
Dr. Jorge Gomez, a spokesperson for the American Lung Association and assistant professor and oncologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Health System in New York, says while the numbers related to lung cancer are serious, there has been some progress made in survival rates over the last 10 to 15 years.
The availability of tests for early detection and the overall improvements to the treatment methods have helped with survival rates. Gomez stresses the importance of the lung cancer screening programs and the advances in medications, surgeries and radiation therapies as factors helping to combat this disease.
“The earlier you find lung cancer the more likely it is to be cured,” Gomez says. “Every cured patient increases the overall survival rating for the entire country.”
Gomez has spent the entirety of his medical career researching and fighting lung cancer. He says the increase in tobacco consumption by men following World War II is directly related to the increase in lung cancer cases through the 1980s.
The incidences of lung cancer in men sharply rose after the 1940s, but in women, those incidences stayed flat. He speculates that after the equality movement and a possible push by advertisers in the 1960s and ’70s, lung cancer diagnoses started increasing for women.
“After the 1970s, the incidences in women started going up. It never reached as high as those in men, but those numbers did increase considerably,” Gomez says.
African-American men and women are more likely to develop and die from lung cancer than persons of any other ethnic group. Cancer incident rates among African- American men are 28 percent higher than for Caucasian males.
The types of cigarettes being used could also play a part in these numbers. Gomez says statistics show African-American males tend to smoke menthol cigarettes, and those have been proven to be more addictive than normal cigarettes. He says the increase in the levels of cotinine in menthols (a metabolite of nicotine) makes them more addictive.
“Many people who smoke don’t get lung cancer, but if you smoke more, you are more likely to get lung cancer,” Gomez says. “So, African-American smokers may indeed smoke more than white smokers, which could explain why their numbers are higher.”
Moving forward, Gomez says advances in early detection and improvement in treatment measures offer a great deal of hope in combating this disease. One of the biggest developments is in the field of immunotherapy. This process is ramping up the body’s immune system to fight cancer in the early stages, and immunotherapy, combined with traditional chemotherapy treatments is being studied in clinical trials, and Gomez believes this might offer an exciting advance in treatment.
“It will have a much larger impact once we fine-tune all these different medications. I think all cancers will see an improvement in the coming years based on immunotherapy,” Gomez says.
Numbers behind the disease
- Lung cancer is the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the U.S.
- In 2017, 155,870 Americans died from lung cancer, roughly 26 percent of all cancer deaths
- Men are about 50 percent more likely to die from lung cancer than women (52 vs 35 per 100,000)
- More than 415,000 Americans living today have been diagnosed with lung cancer
- In 2017, an estimated 222,500 new cases of lung cancer were diagnosed, roughly 13 percent of all cancer diagnoses
- Lung cancer is the most common cancer worldwide with 1.8 million new cases and 1.6 million deaths in 2012
- Men are about 27 percent more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer than women (61 vs 48 per 100,000) but more women live with the disease (230,000 vs 186,000)
- Lung cancer’s five-year survival rate, 18 percent, is lower than many other cancers: colon, 64 percent; breast, 90 percent; and prostate, 99 percent
- 9.7 million Americans qualify as high risk for lung cancer and should receive low-dose CT scans annually
- If half of these high-risk people were screened, more than 15,000 lung cancer deaths could be prevented
Source: American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.