Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, killing an estimated 159,260 Americans in 2014. Once diagnosed, it has an abysmal 5-year survival rate of just under 17%. In fact, if you separate “all cancer deaths” into its individual cancer components, lung cancer alone is the second leading cause of death in the United States, second only to heart disease, and more lethal than chronic respiratory disease, stroke, or unintentional injury .To put this in perspective, 6.8% of all men and women will be diagnosed with lung cancer at some point in their lifetimes. That is 1 person in 15 who will be affected by lung cancer.
Our best chance to improve outcomes in lung cancer is to catch the disease early. Currently, most lung cancers are discovered at a late stage, with metastatic cancer found in 57% of newly diagnosed patients and with regional spread to lymph nodes in 22% of newly diagnosed patients. Only 15% of newly diagnosed patients have localized disease. These patients with localized disease are the ones who have the best chance at a surgical cure, with a 54% 5-year survival rate. Those with metastatic disease at presentation, by contrast, have only a 4% 5-year survival rate
It is clear that lung cancer is a cause for real concern in American medicine. It is a leading cause of death, and we are looking for ways to discover it at an earlier stage. Unfortunately, lung cancer has been underfunded and many might say overlooked. In terms of federal research dollars spent per cancer death, lung cancer ranks very low, with only $1,442 per cancer death, a number dwarfed by federal research spending on other cancers.
It is possible one reason lung cancer has not gotten its due is because of its association with smoking. A stigma attached to smoking has unfairly been attached to lung cancer victims. But let us consider some sobering facts: