Lung cancer screening

Lung cancer screening
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In 2015, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that there could be as many as 221,200 newly diagnosed cases of lung cancer and 158,000 deaths from lung cancer.1 Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death. In fact, lung cancer kills more people than other prominently screened for cancers such as breast, colon and prostate cancers – combined (117,680).2

Why is lung cancer so deadly?
The high mortality associated with lung cancer is driven by two factors, the prevalence, or how common the cancer is among the general population and the survival rate, or likelihood of surviving a diagnosis. Only breast and prostate cancers are more prevalent than lung cancer (232,350 and 220,800 annual new diagnoses respectively).2 However, the 5-year survival rates for breast and prostate cancer are significantly higher than lung cancer. As of 2006, the 5 year survival rates for the five most common cancers were: breast, 90%, prostate, 100%, lung, 16%, colorectal, 67% and bladder, 81%. Lung cancer is the clear outlier, and the difference is even more striking if you look at these survival rates in 1970: breast, 75%; prostate, 69%; lung, 13%; colorectal, 51%; and bladder, 74%. From 1970 to 2006, the 5 year survival rate for lung cancer has only increased by a paltry 3%. 3

The low survival rate is due to the fact that lung cancer is typically asymptomatic in early stages and the survival rate in late stages range from 14% to 1%.4 A secondary reason is that, until now, a screening test for lung cancer did not exist. The NLST trial and subsequent insurance coverage of lung cancer screening, including coverage for Medicare beneficiaries has the potential to increase the likelihood of early detection.


1National Cancer Institute. SEER Stat Fact Sheets: Lung and Bronchus Cancer. [Cited May 2015.]

2American Cancer Society: Cancer Facts and Figures 2015. [Cited May 2015].

3National Institutes of Health. Cancer. [Cited May 2015]

4Eldridge, L. Lung cancer survival rates by type and stage. About Health. [Cited May 2015]