Every two-and-a-half minutes, someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with lung cancer. (STOCK PHOTO)

WILLISTON — Every two and a half minutes someone in the United States will be diagnosed with lung cancer. The American Lung Association’s inaugural LUNG FORCE “State of Lung Cancer” report is the first time that these national and state lung cancer statistics have been analyzed in one report to show how the toll of lung cancer varies across the country, and how Vermont can do more to protect its residents from lung cancer.

“There will be over 500 people in Vermont diagnosed with lung cancer and nearly 400 will succumb to the deadly disease in 2018. More must be done to save lives,” said Jeff Seyler, executive vice president for the American Lung Association, northeast region. “The American Lung Association’s LUNG FORCE initiative was created to help defeat lung cancer — the leading cause of cancer deaths — and this new report outlines what we need to do to succeed — tackling both the disease and its risk factors as well as supporting access to preventative health services and treatment options.”

The LUNG FORCE “State of Lung Cancer” 2018 report finds that lung cancer diagnosis and survival rates vary state by state. It also highlights that some states are yet to report on all of the key lung cancer indicators. By better understanding the impact of lung cancer at the state level, we can enact policies and focus attention where the need is greatest. Vermont is one of several states that neglects to track vital lung cancer statistics, despite its higher than average incidence rate.  Where available, this report shows where Vermont ranks in comparison to the rest of the United States by covering the following measures of lung cancer burden.

Incidence: More than 234,000 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year, and the rate of new cases vary by state, with a national average of 63 per 100,000. Vermont ranks 30 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, with a lung cancer incidence of 66.7 per 100,000 people. There are a variety of risk factors associated with lung cancer, including smoking, 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 smoke-quitting services are all effective ways to prevent new lung cancer cases.

Survival rate: Lung cancer is often not caught at an early stage when it is more likely to be curable. The five-year lung cancer survival rate ranges from 24 percent in New York to 15.9 percent in Louisiana. Unfortunately, Vermont is one of 19 states that does not track this metric which is vital in the mission to improve lung cancer survival at the state level.  The American Lung Association recommends that all states enhance monitoring of lung cancer and help identify how to improve outcomes for patients.

Stage at diagnosis: People diagnosed at early stages of lung cancer are five times more likely to survive, but unfortunately only 18.9 percent of lung cancer cases nationally are diagnosed at an early stage. In Vermont, this data is not reported.

Screening centers: The availability of accredited lung cancer screening sites has been shown to be positively related to survival of lung cancer, with each additional screening site per million people being associated with a 0.3 percentage point increase in the lung cancer survival rate. Vermont ranks 9 out of 50 states and the District of Columbia, with eight screening centers per million people. Raising awareness of these screening facilities, as well as criteria for low-dose CT scans, can improve patient outcomes.

Surgical treatment: Lung cancer is more likely to be curable if the tumor can be surgically removed, and surgery is more likely to be an option if the diagnosis is made at an early stage before the cancer has spread. Quality healthcare and new treatment options for lung cancer are needed to increase survival rates. In Vermont, this data is not reported.

  “While we have seen some advancements in lung cancer treatment options and a new method of early detection, the burden of lung cancer is not the same everywhere,” said Rebecca Ryan, senior director of health education and public policy for the American Lung Association in Vermont. “Understanding state trends in incidence, diagnoses, treatment and survival can help us understand best practices and work strategically with state government to improve patient outcomes. Treatment, exposure to risk factors, and access to screening facilities vary from state to state, and Vermont’s leaders must do more to act and implement proven policies and track vital statistics to reduce the deadly toll of lung cancer.”

On Wednesday, March 14, lung cancer survivor and Vermonter, Jeffrey Towers from Castleton, will be heading to Capitol Hill to share his  story and these startling statistics with his members of Congress. LUNG FORCE Heroes from all 50 states will be asking Congress to support increased funding for the National Institutes of Health for better treatment and early detection of lung cancer, as well as sharing why quality and affordable healthcare is especially important for lung cancer patients.

“I was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2015 after noticing a lump in my breast and an initial diagnosis of pneumonia, and was shocked to learn that it was Stage 4 lung cancer,” said Towers. “We need more voices in this fight against cancer and I am proud to share my story and advocate on behalf of the millions of people that have been affected by lung cancer.”

The LUNG FORCE “State of Lung Cancer” report is both a guide post and rallying cry, providing policymakers, researchers, healthcare practitioners, as well as patients, caregivers and others committed to ending lung cancer, with a one-stop resource for identifying how their state can best focus to support lung cancer patients – like Jeffrey Towers , their caregivers, and those at high risk for lung cancer.