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Lung Cancer: Vital Facts You Need to Know (with Infographic)

Which cancer claims the most U.S. lives each year? Lung cancer is still the answer, despite the cigarette smoking rate nationwide continuing to decline.

By far, tobacco use is the leading risk factor for lung cancer, accounting for 80 to 90 percent of cases, according to the American Lung Association’s just-published State of Lung Cancer report [1], as part of Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Moreover, Nov. 21 marks Great American Smokeout [2], an annual campaign by the American Cancer Society to help people quit smoking.

While lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths among both women and men, the survival rate has dramatically increased over the past 10 years, the report emphasizes. The five-year survival rate — representing lung cancer patients still alive five years after being diagnosed — is now 21.7 percent, up from 17.2 percent a decade ago, the ALA states.

“This year’s report supports both the lifesaving potential of lung cancer screenings, which finds the disease at an early stage when it’s more curable, and the importance of advancements in lung cancer research which holds the promise for better treatment options,” the report states.

More than 228,000 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year, and the rate of new cases varies greatly by state, the report says. Researchers found that Utah has the nation’s lowest lung cancer rates while Kentucky has the highest. (Continue reading below.)

Infographic by Irina de Souza

Additionally, e-cigarettes or vaping devices are increasingly being used by teenagers and young adults. These vape devices can increase the potency of the nicotine, one of the most addictive chemicals, delivered to the lungs of the user. The possible link between vaping products and cancer has yet to be established because e-cigarettes have been on the market for just a few years.

“Before anyone considers using any sort of tobacco or vape product, they should know that they both present significant health risks,” says Mark Dylewski, M.D., chief of general thoracic surgery at Miami Cancer Institute.

In addition to smoking, there are a variety of risk factors associated with lung cancer, including exposure to radon gas, air pollution and secondhand smoke.

“Radon testing and mitigation, healthy air protections, and reducing the smoking rate through tobacco tax increases, smokefree air laws and access to comprehensive quit smoking services are all ways to help prevent new lung cancer cases,” the ALA says.

The US Preventive Services Task Force recommends yearly lung cancer screening for current or former smokers with a smoking history of 30 or more “pack years” — which refers to smoking one pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years. Those recommendations are for adults, ages 55 to 80, who either currently smoke or quit within the past 15 years.