16th January 2020

Encouraging US lung cancer figures show impact of advances in treatments and early detection

View all Early detection

The latest US Cancer Statistics 2020 report shows that, because fewer people are now dying of lung cancer, overall cancer mortality rates are also falling.

This is welcome news, as it demonstrates the impact that new treatments such as immunotherapy and targeted therapies, and methods to improve early detection of lung cancer are having, both in America and here in the UK.

According to the latest figures for England and Wales lung cancer remains the third most common cause of death among men, accounting for 6.2% of all male deaths. It also kills more women than any other form of the disease.

No one doubts the severity of the challenge that lung cancer poses, yet there are real causes for optimism too.

Comparing lung cancer figures from 2008 with those from 2017, we can see that for men, the incidence rate has fallen from 100.2 per 100,000 people to 86.9, while the mortality rate for men is also lower, down from 84.1 to 65.8. That quite a drop in under ten years.

For women, the picture may seem less encouraging at first glance. The incidence rate has actually risen, up from 61.5 to 67.0 per 100,000 people. Yet the mortality rate has dropped, down from 49.5 to 46.1 – which is a significant improvement.

Age-standardised mortality and incidence rates per 100,000 for lung cancer in males and females,  

England, 2008 and 2017
Source: National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service within Public Health England; Office for National Statistics (ONS)

Our chief executive, Paula Chadwick, is encouraged both by the US experience and the trends underlying the figures for England and Wales.

She said, “From our point of view, it’s clear we still have much to do. Lung cancer remains a formidable foe and we want to see the incidence rate for women start to fall.

“We know that lung cancer can have a ‘long tail’ – patients are often over 70 when they’re diagnosed. The disease can take many years to develop. We also know that smoking is not the only cause – in fact, up to 28% of all cases of lung cancer are not related to smoking. We are also seeing a rise in the number of younger people, particularly women, being diagnosed with lung cancer and many of them have never smoked.

“Our key message is always the same: if you have lungs, you can get lung cancer. None the less, the reality is that smoking remains a major cause of the disease.

“Many women took up smoking during the Second World War or in the decades afterwards, when social behaviour began to change. So, now we’re seeing this generation of women presenting with lung cancer.

“These new figures from America are encouraging, and clearly back what we’ve been saying for some time now – a national screening programme for lung cancer will save lives.

“It’s also wonderful to see the effect that the new and better treatments are having. This is our aim, to see more people with lung cancer living better for longer”.

What has certainly helped to turn the tide in the US is a comprehensive strategy aimed at reducing the impact of lung cancer. Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation is part of a world-wide network of patient-advocacy not-for-profit organisations, the Global Lung Cancer Coalition (GLCC)

One of our partner organisations within the GLCC is the GO2 Foundation for Lung Cancer, whose CEO, Laurie Fenton Ambrose, said, “This comprehensive strategy is what will – and is – saving lives for our community.

“The focus is on a coordinated plan of action linking prevention to early detection and targeted treatment options. It’s bringing screening and personalised treatment into community settings in more than 700 medical centres in the US”.

Here in the UK, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation is working with Public Health England and several Care Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in England to help co-ordinate lung health check projects. We hope that, in due course, these schemes will help to advance the case for a network of programmes across the UK.

We have always campaigned to tackle the misperceptions surrounding the disease and to help change negative attitudes.

Our awareness campaigns, such as ‘Head High’, ‘Like Me’ and ‘Follow My Lead’, have sought to highlight different aspects of such misperceptions. We are eternally grateful to all the patient advocates who gave their time and shared their stories to support these campaigns.   

If you would like to quit smoking, we offer a range of services and online support that can help.