In the early 1900s, lung cancer was extremely rare. Rates of lung cancer increased dramatically in the 1930s after the introduction of cigarettes. Smoking was found to be directly linked to lung cancer in studies as early as the 1950s.
In 2015 alone, an estimated 221,200 people in the United States will be diagnosed with lung cancer, and 158,040 people are expected to die of the disease.
It is now the No. 1 cancer resulting in death in men and women in the country. In 2011, Kentucky had the highest incidence of lung cancer in the United States for both men and women.
Unfortunately, lung cancer usually is not found until it has reached advanced stages, which results in a poor outcome for the patient.
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The estimated five-year survival rate for all patients diagnosed with lung cancer is 16 percent.
Only 20 percent of patients diagnosed each year have early-stage lung cancer that is surgically curable. Patients who are diagnosed early with smaller lung cancers (less advanced) have a better outcome, with 70 percent to 80 percent expected to achieve the five-year survival rate.
Recent efforts have focused on finding lung cancer earlier with the hope of improving survival.
A study started in 2002 compared 53,000 patients who underwent X-rays or CT scans as a way to screen for lung cancer in former heavy smokers ages 55 to 74. Patients who underwent CT scan screening had a 15 percent to 20 percent lower risk of dying from lung cancer.
It is now recommended that people who are smoking or who have quit within the past 15 years and have a 30 or more pack-year history should be screened for lung cancer with a CT scan. (Pack years are calculated by multiplying the packs of cigarettes smoked a day by the number of years someone has smoked. )
Patients with additional risk factors for lung cancer, such as an immediate relative with a history of lung cancer, may be screened after the age of 50 if they have a 20 or more pack-year history of smoking.
Patients with early-stage lung cancers usually have no symptoms. Symptoms of lung cancer are very vague and include cough, shortness of breath, pain or weight loss.
When a lung cancer is diagnosed, it first will be staged by determining its size and extent of spread. The stage of the cancer will determine whether surgery, radiation or chemotherapy might be recommended.
Lung cancer is an avoidable disease simply by quitting tobacco. For tips on how to quit smoking, see your doctor or go to Smokefree.gov.