Health

Kentucky has the nation’s worst rate of new lung cancer cases, according to a new report from the American Lung Association.

The state also has one of the lowest five-year survival rates after diagnosis: only 17.6 percent of Kentuckians diagnosed with lung cancer live for at least five years after their diagnosis. That means the majority of people die within five years.

Nationwide, lung cancer has the worst survival rates of all cancers. That’s in part because it often goes undetected until it’s in the advanced stages, and thus is less likely to be successfully treated.

Shannon Baker, the director of advocacy for the American Lung Association in Kentucky, said one big factor contributing to Kentucky’s lung cancer rate is tobacco use.

“Tobacco use in Kentucky is right now the second highest in the nation, and oftentimes depending on when you look, the highest in the nation,” Baker said.

Though the state had bad lung cancer rates and survival outcomes, there were a couple of bright spots in the report. Kentucky ranked #4 in screening for lung cancer. Nationally, 4.2 percent of people at a high risk for lung cancer actually had an annual low-dose CT scan to detect the cancer. But in Kentucky, 10.3 percent of high-risk patients were screened.

Another positive: only 11.3 percent of Kentuckians diagnosed with lung cancer don’t receive treatment: lower than the 15.4 percent of patients nationwide that go untreated. Lung cancer can be treated with surgery if it’s caught early enough, and Kentucky ranks about average in the  lung cancer cases that are caught early and are good candidates for surgery.

Baker said there are a few things the Kentucky legislature could do to decrease Kentucky’s lung cancer rate, including considering a bill pre-filed by Rep. Jerry Miller to tax e-cigarettes and vapes at the same rate as traditional cigarettes. Though there’s no definitive research showing that vaping causes lung cancer, there is concern among advocates that it might. 

“The common misconception about e-cigarettes is that it is a harmless water vapor, and that is absolutely not true,” Baker said. “It is an aerosol laden with carcinogens, fine particles, lead and other compounds that we know create damage to the lung.”

She also said the Lung Association is working toward getting sponsors for one bill to increase funding for tobacco prevention efforts and another to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21. 

 

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.