Lung cancer survival rates improve, thanks in part to earlier diagnosis, study finds

Lung cancer survival rates improve, thanks in part to earlier diagnosis, study finds
Earlier screening may be fueling improved survival in lung cancer, a new study has found. Photo by toubibe/Pixabay

Oct. 21 (UPI) -- More than one in four people with non-small-cell lung cancer survive at least five years after their diagnosis, an analysis published Thursday by JAMA Oncology found.

That five-year survival rate is nearly 10% higher than previous estimates from the National Cancer Institute published in 2014 and 2015, the researchers said.


Meanwhile, between 2010 and 2016, the most recent period for which figures are available, the prevalence of non-small-cell lung cancer cases increased by 13%, most likely due to increased screening for the disease, they said.

The rise in lung cancer screening has led to earlier diagnosis, meaning people with the disease are identified at stage I, which has a five-year survival rate of 68%, according to the researchers.

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"There is renewed hope with all the recent advances in the treatment of lung cancer and lung cancer screening," study co-author Dr. Apar Kishor Ganti told UPI in an email.

"Our findings show that as the diagnosis of lung cancer at an earlier stage is increased, overall outcomes improve," said Ganti, a professor of oncology-hematology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.

About 220,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with lung cancer annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 85% have the non-small-cell form of the disease, the American Cancer Society estimates.

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Smokers are at increased risk for the disease, particularly the small-cell type, the CDC says.

Stages of cancer refer to the extent a tumor has grown and whether it has spread. As tumors grow, they move up in stage, from I to III, and if the cancer metastasizes or spreads to other organs, it is considered stage IV.

The earlier a cancer is diagnosed -- when it is still at stage I or II, for example -- the better the prognosis.

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For this study, Ganti and his colleagues analyzed data on roughly 1.28 million non-small-cell lung cancer cases in the United States diagnosed between 2010 and 2017.

Over the course of the study period, the number of cancers diagnosed at stage I rose to nearly 30% in 2017 from about 24% in 2010, the data showed.

During the same period, the number of cancers diagnosed at stage IV, or after the disease had spread, declined to 44% from 48%.

Five year survival rates were higher for women, at 31%, than men, at 21%, and for people age 65 and younger, at 28%, than those age 65 and older, at 26%.

Those diagnosed with stage IV cancer had a five-year survival rate of 6%, the data showed.


"Our findings should end any possible controversy that may exist regarding the efficacy of lung cancer screening," Ganti said.

"We know that the majority of patients diagnosed during the screening process are at an earlier stage, and therefore, if screening is widely implemented, we could decrease mortality from lung cancer," he said.

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