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2021 State of Lung Cancer Report Finds Survival Has Increased but Remains Significantly Lower for People of Color


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The new 2021 State of Lung Cancer report reveals that the 5-year survival rate for lung cancer increased from 14.5% nationally to 23.7%, yet remains significantly lower among communities of color. The American Lung Association’s fourth annual report also highlights how the toll of lung cancer varies by state and examines key indicators throughout the United States, including new cases, survival, early diagnosis, surgical treatment, lack of treatment, and screening rates.

According to the report, in addition to lower survival rates, people of color who are diagnosed with lung cancer face worse outcomes compared to White patients, including being less likely to be diagnosed early, less likely to receive surgical treatment, and more likely to receive no treatment. This is the second year that the State of Lung Cancer report has explored the lung cancer burden among racial and ethnic minority groups at the national and state levels.

“The report highlights important news—more people are surviving lung cancer; however, it also underscores the fact that, sadly, health disparities persist for communities of color. In fact, while the national lung cancer survival rate increased to 23.7%, it remains at only 20% for communities of color and 18% for Black Americans. Everyone deserves the opportunity to lead a full and healthy life, so more must be done to address these health disparities,” said Harold Wimmer, National President and Chief Executive Officer for the Lung Association.

Key Report Findings

Close to 236,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year. The 2021 State of Lung Cancer report found the following national trends in survival rates, early diagnosis, and treatment of the disease:

  • Survival rate: Lung cancer has one of the lowest 5-year survival rates because cases are often diagnosed at later stages, when it is less likely to be curable. The national average of people alive 5 years after a lung cancer diagnosis is 23.7%. Survival rates were the best in Connecticut, at 28.8%, while Alabama ranked worst, at 18.4%.
  • Early diagnosis: Nationally, only 24% of cases are diagnosed at an early stage; 46% of cases are not caught until a late stage, when the survival rate is only 6%. Early diagnosis rates were best in Massachusetts (30%) and worst in Hawaii (19%).
  • Screening: Lung cancer screening with annual low-dose computed tomography scans for those at high risk can reduce the lung cancer death rate by up to 20%. Nationally, only 5.7% of those at high risk were screened. Massachusetts has the highest screening rate, at 17.8%, while California and Wyoming have the lowest, at 1.0%.
  • Surgery as first course of treatment: Nationally, only 20.7% of patients underwent surgery.
  • Lack of treatment:  Nationally, 21.1% of patients received no treatment.
  • Medicaid coverage: Fee-for-service state Medicaid programs are one of the only health-care payers not required to cover lung cancer screening for high-risk populations. The Lung Association analyzed lung cancer screening coverage policies in state Medicaid fee-for-service programs to assess the current status of lung cancer screening coverage for the Medicaid population, and found that 40 states’ Medicaid fee-for-service programs cover lung cancer screening, 7 programs do not provide coverage, and 3 states did not have information available on their coverage policy.

In March of 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force expanded its recommendation for lung cancer screening to include a larger age range and more current or former smokers. This dramatically increased the number of women and Black Americans who are eligible for lung cancer screening.

To learn more about the report, visit lung.org/research/state-of-lung-cancer.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.
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