Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Lung Cancer Screenings Lag, Survival Rate Better


Florida trails dozens of other states in lung-cancer screenings among high-risk populations and lags in patients getting treatment for the disease, but the state’s five-year survival rate for lung cancer remains above average, according to a report released Tuesday by the American Lung Association.

Among 40 states reporting screening information, Florida ranked last in the percentage of high-risk populations getting screened for lung cancer, the State of Lung Cancer Report shows.

Nationally, only 5.7 percent of high-risk patients obtain screenings; in Florida, that rate was 3.2 percent. People are considered high risk if they are between ages 55 and 80 and are current smokers; if they have quit in the past 15 years; or if they have a 30-pack history of smoking, whether one pack a day for 30 years, two packs a day for 15 years or three packs a day for 10 years.

Florida also lags nationally in treatment for lung cancer. The report shows that 19 percent of Florida patients diagnosed with lung cancer receive no treatment for the disease. That compares to 15.2 percent nationally.

But Florida’s five-year survival rate is 24.1 percent, which surpasses the national rate of 22.6 percent, which American Lung Association Eastern Division Vice President of Health Promotions Brenda Olsen acknowledged seems contradictory.

“We have some really, really, good treatment centers,” she said, noting that Mayo Clinic is in Jacksonville, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center is in South Florida, Moffitt Cancer Center is in Tampa and the University of Florida is in Gainesville. “So I would speculate that once we do get people into diagnosis and we can get them into these specialized treatment centers, then they’re getting very, very good care.”

Lung cancer is the deadliest of all cancers, but early detection is considered a key to increasing five-year survival rates. The American Lung Association estimates that 18,150 Florida residents and 228,000 people nationwide will be diagnosed with the disease in 2020.

The report does not reflect the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. With people delaying routine health care during the pandemic, those diagnosis estimates could be high.

Risk factors associated with lung cancer include smoking, exposure to radon gas, air pollution and secondhand smoke. The American Lung Association maintains that new lung cancer rates can be reduced in a number of ways, including increased tobacco taxes, which it contends would reduce the percentage of smokers. Other ways include providing access to comprehensive smoking cessation and radon testing and mitigation.

The association published the report for a third year, but this was the first time researchers examined racial disparities for lung cancer. Nationally, Black Americans with lung cancer were 16 percent less likely to be diagnosed early, 19 percent less likely to receive surgical treatment, and 7 percent more likely to not receive any treatment compared to white Americans, the report said.

Similarly, Latinos nationally with lung cancer were 13 percent less likely to be diagnosed early, 2 percent less likely to receive surgical treatment and 39 percent more likely to not receive any treatment compared to white Americans.

“We really are encouraging our policy makers to take a look at, how do we make sure we are providing access to affordable health care in the state to all the residents that live in this wonderful state of ours and how do we get them to the care that they need. We really want people to understand that early diagnosis is the key to … survivorship,” Olsen said. “The sooner you find out that you have lung cancer before it has had an opportunity to spread, the sooner we can provide better treatments.”

Copyright 2020 WUSF Public Media - WUSF 89.7

Christine Sexton - News Service of Florida