How does Tennessee stack up in terms of lung cancer and treatment?

According to the American Lung Association (ALA), lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women in the United States. It accounts for around one in every four U.S. cancer deaths.

The national five-year survival rate for most forms of lung cancer is about 21.7%. Fortunately, that isup from 17.2% a decade ago.

The ALA believes that much of this improvement has been due to greater early detection, catching the disease when it’s most curable. Additionally, targeted immunotherapies have helped people survive who might not have in the past.

Unfortunately, the rate of new lung cancer cases in Tennessee is higher than the national average. In terms of new cases, Tennessee ranks 47th out of 50 states. We’re seeing more lung cancer than most other states.

Our five-year survival rate is also below average. This is the percentage of people who remain alive five years after a diagnosis. In Tennessee, it’s only 18.7%, or 36th out of 50 states. However, the five-year survival rate can be much higher when the disease is caught earlier – 57.7%. Unfortunately, the majority of lung cancers are discovered later in the disease process. Luckily, this is no worse in Tennessee than in the U.S. overall.

For most types of lung cancer, surgical treatment is effective, especially when the cancer is discovered while it is still in the lung and the lymph nodes near the lung. When patients get surgery as part of their initial treatment, they have higher survival rates. Unfortunately, Tennessee ranked 24th out of the 48 states that reported data in terms of offering surgery as an initial treatment. The nationwide average was 20.6% of patients receiving surgery, while in Tennessee it was only 19.3%.

Tennessee was in the average tier five tiers of 46 states reporting data on patients who undergo no treatment for lung cancer. People go without treatment for a variety of reasons, ranging from cost, stigma, lack of knowledge, religion, or because their lung cancer is too advanced or of a type that cannot easily be treated.

People at high risk for lung cancer can receive significant benefits from having an annual, low-dose CT scan to detect lung cancer. This group includes smokers and certain former smokers between the ages of 55 and 80. Annual cancer screening among high-risk patients can improve survival rates by as much as 20% if it helps catch the disease at an earlier stage. In Tennessee, however, the rate of annual screenings was just 3.7%, below the national average of 4.2%.

We can and must do better.

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