American Lung Association finds ‘dramatic’ increase in lung cancer survival rates, with radiologists playing a key role

Receiving that initial lung cancer diagnosis is not the death sentence that it used to be for some Americans, with more surviving the disease than ever before.

The American Lung Association made that assertion in its newest State of Lung Cancer report, released on Wednesday, Nov. 14. Almost 22% of individuals diagnosed with lung cancer are still fighting five years later, up from 17.2% just a decade ago. That’s a 26% increase according to the ALA, one that’s partly attributable to better screening using low-dose CT scans to catch the cancer early on.

"Lung cancer has touched far too many lives, and this year’s ‘State of Lung Cancer’ report offers tremendous hope and reaffirms our belief in the lifesaving potential of screening and cancer research to turn the tide against this disease,” ALA National President and CEO, Harold Wimmer said in a statement.

Radiologists and other clinicians can help push survival rates even higher by better promoting such screenings. The association noted that, if everyone eligible for low-dose CT—based on United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) criteria—were screened, almost 48,000 lives could be saved. And for individuals ages 50 to 80 with a 30 pack-year smoking history who still smoke or have quit more recently, low-dose CT could reduce their cancer death rate by up to 20%, the report noted.

Across the country, only about 4.2% of those who qualify were screened last year. The report further breaks down those percentages at the state level, with Massachusetts leading the way at 12.3% and Nevada at the bottom of the list with a 0.5% screening rate.

“All states must make addressing lung cancer an urgent public health priority, and this new report offers solutions and opportunities for states to address the toll of lung cancer,” Wimmer added.

Data on the number of screening exams that meet USPTF criteria came from the American College of Radiology's (ACR) Lung Cancer Screening Registry State Level Comparison for 2018. Research was also supported by ACR's National Radiology Data Registry, authors noted.