World Lung Cancer Day: Why awareness days matter

date on the calendar

The 1st August was World Lung Cancer Day. Designated as such, making sure we circle this day on our calendars gives us a prime opportunity to raise awareness about the health issues surrounding lung cancer and respiratory health.

Awareness days and events are effective because they help inform people across all demographics. Spreading knowledge about cancer prevention, treatment, and support helps those with cancer and their families and loved ones. These conversations are a significant display of compassion that can make a real difference in the lives of so many.

According to the American Cancer Society, Lung cancer rates in the US for 2023 are:

  • About 238,340 new cases of lung cancer (117,550 in men and 120,790 in women)
  • About 127,070 deaths from lung cancer (67,160 in men and 59,910 in women)

A leading cause of US cancer death

Lung cancer mainly occurs in older people. Most people diagnosed with lung cancer are 65 or older; a very small number are younger than 45. The average age of people diagnosed is about 70. Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer death in the US, accounting for about 1 in 5 of all cancer deaths. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.

"Understanding how and why lung cancer occurs is essential," Registered Nurse and writer with The Mesothelioma Center, Sean Marchese, said. "Smoking is the most common cause, causing 80–90% of lung cancer deaths. Toxic sources, such as radon and asbestos, are also significant contributors. Spreading awareness can help those at risk understand the sources of exposure in the environment. Sharing this knowledge empowers people to safeguard their health and well-being proactively."

Stats and demographics

The number of new lung cancer cases continues to decrease, partly because more people are quitting smoking (or not starting). The number of deaths from lung cancer continues to drop as well, due to fewer people smoking and advances in early detection and treatment, according to the American Cancer Society.

The odds that a man will develop lung cancer in his lifetime are about 1 in 16; for a woman, the risk is about 1 in 17. These stats include people who smoke and those who don't. For smokers, the risk is much higher, while for those who don't, the risk is lower.

  • Black men are about 12% more likely to develop lung cancer than White men. The rate is about 16% lower in Black women than in White women.
  • Black women and White women have lower rates than men, but the gap is closing. The lung cancer rate has been dropping among men over the past few decades, but only for about the last decade among women.
  • Despite their overall risk of lung cancer being higher, Black men are less likely to develop SCLC than white men.

Statistics on survival in people with lung cancer vary depending on the type of cancer, the stage (extent) of the cancer when it is diagnosed, and other factors. For survival statistics, see Lung Cancer Survival Rates.

Despite the very serious prognosis of lung cancer, some people with earlier-stage cancers are cured.

"Improvements in medicine and technology have provided hope to more people with lung cancer. Targeted immunotherapies and early screening programmes offer a more comprehensive range of treatment options. However, there is an urgent need for funding for lung cancer research. The science behind these discoveries drives the insights we need to beat lung cancer," Marchese said.

The benefits of early screening

Regular screenings and early detection play a crucial role in improving lung cancer outcomes. According to the CDC, the only recommended screening test for lung cancer is low-dose computed tomography (also called a low-dose CT scan, or LDCT). During an LDCT scan, you lay on a table, and an X-ray machine uses a low dose (amount) of radiation to make detailed images of your lungs. The scan only takes a few minutes and is not painful.

The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends yearly lung cancer screening with LDCT for people who:

  • Have a 20-pack-year or more smoking history, and
  • Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years, and
  • Are between 50 and 80 years old.

A pack-year is smoking an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for one year. For example, a person could have a 20-pack-year history by smoking one pack a day for 20 years or two packs a day for 10 years. Through awareness efforts like World Lung Cancer Day, we can encourage individuals to undergo regular screenings, increasing the chances of detecting lung cancer in its early stages, when treatment is most effective.

For that reason, Marchese believes investing in this cause is our shared responsibility.

“We can advocate for that progress through World Lung Cancer Day and ensure every lung cancer patient gets the bright future they deserve," he said.

Myrt Price
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Myrt Price
14 August, 2023