Lung Cancer – A Look at the Numbers

It is a known fact that lung cancer is the second leading cause of death and the biggest cause of cancer deaths in both sexes in the West. It accounts for about 30% of all deaths from cancer.

The unfortunate reality is that many of those deaths could have been prevented — fully 85% of all lung cancers are caused by smoking. This includes those who breathe in second-hand smoke from others in the vicinity. If everyone were to give up smoking, the incidence of lung cancer would drop dramatically.

After smoking, radon exposure is the second most common cause of lung cancer in America. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 21,000 deaths are caused every year by radon exposure.

Among various ethnic groups, the incidence of lung cancer is highest among African Americans. This is because of a high cultural propensity among this group to take up the smoking habit.

This is also one of the deadliest forms of cancer around. To give some comparative statistics, the five-year survival rate from colon cancer is 62% and that from breast cancer 87%. The corresponding figure for prostate cancer is 98%. In sharp contrast, the five-year survival rate for lung cancer is a low 15%.

One reason for this low survival rate is that lung cancer tends to be diagnosed at a very late stage in its cycle — typically during stage 3 or stage 4. By that time, cancer has spread to other parts of the body and has affected many vital organs. This significantly reduces the probability of survival.

There is a prevailing myth that a smoker’s lungs will return to normal fifteen years after he stops smoking and at that point, his chances of developing lung cancer are the same as that for a non-smoker. The reality is that a smoker’s lungs never become completely normal again. However, it is true that his chances of getting lung cancer to drop off as time passes, although it probably never drops to the level of a person who has remained smoke-free all his life.

This is borne out by the fact that while existing smokers make up about 40% of all new cases of lung cancer, former smokers account for fully 50% of such cases.

Studies indicate that former smokers have about 9 times greater chances of dying from lung cancer as compared to those who never smoked. Current smokers are said to be 23 times more likely to die from this disease than people who never smoked.

The numbers are slightly lower for women — former women smokers have 5 times the chances of dying from lung cancer when compared to never smokers. And current smokers are 13 times as likely to die of this illness.

It is obvious that prevention is the best policy when it comes to lung cancer. And the way to prevent this disease is to not smoke at all or at least, to give up smoking at the earliest.