The 2022 “State of Lung Cancer” report issued by the American Lung Association this week indicates that Delaware ranks No. 9 among states for early diagnosis and No. 11 for lung cancer screening. The American Lung Association’s fifth annual report, released on Nov. 15, highlights the toll of lung cancer in Delaware and examines key indicators, including new cases, survival, early diagnosis, surgical treatment, lack of treatment and screening rates.
“Delaware is No. 9 for early diagnosis for all states,” said Deborah Brown chief mission officer for the ALA. “It is ranked No. 11 for lung cancer screening, which of course is the key to early diagnosis, which can save lives. There are more treatment options available to you.”
“One of the things that is most exciting is that we have shown continued progress for lung cancer survival,” added Brown, who lives in Lewes and has been with ALA her entire career, starting with her first role in the Delaware chapter.
“Lung cancer survival rate is now 25 percent, and it has increased 2 percent from 2014 to 2018, so that is an improvement of survival rates overall,” said Brown. “Individuals used to get a diagnosis in the past, and the prognosis was not good. There are so many new treatments for patients.”
Smoking remains the No. 1 cause of lung cancer.
Brown has personal family experience with lung disease.
“A couple years into my career, I had a sister who had pulmonary arterial hypertension, and she died,” Brown lamented. “I have had two sisters, a brother and a father who have all passed away from this very same lung disease. The pulmonary artery has issues functioning” in these cases, and it has proven fatal to her family.
“So, you are placed right where you are supposed to be,” she said of her ALA career of service.
Nationally, the “State of Lung Cancer” report shows continued progress for lung cancer survival. The lung cancer five-year survival rate is now 25 percent. The report also highlights that, nationally, people of color who are diagnosed with lung cancer face worse outcomes compared to white Americans, including having a lower survival rate, being less likely to be diagnosed early, and being less likely to receive surgical treatment or receiving no treatment at all.
“Lung cancer screening is key to early diagnosis, and early diagnosis saves lives. While Delaware is ranked as one of the top states in the nation for those at high risk getting screened, there is more work to be done and more lives to save,” said Brown. “We all can help reduce the burden of lung cancer here in the First State. If you are eligible for lung cancer screening, we encourage you to speak with your doctor about it. If a loved one is eligible, please encourage them to get screened.”
Currently, 14.2 million Americans meet the guidelines for screening. Under those guidelines, a person is eligible for lung cancer screening if they are between 50 and 80 years of age, have a 20 pack-year history (one pack per day for 20 years, two packs per day for 10 years, etc.) and are a current smoker, or have quit within the last 15 years. Those eligible for lung cancer screening may use a website tool at SavedByTheScan.org.
“Smoking still is one of the major causes and highest risk factor for people who have lung cancer,” noted Brown. “We make sure people also test their homes for radon. That is the second leading cause of lung cancer.”
“Radon is a radioactive gas which exists naturally,” she said, “so you have to test. Make sure your home and car is clear of radon.”
Brown said the Clean Indoor Air Act in Delaware is really helping the state reduce lung cancer exposures, and “We are in the forefront.”
At work, Brown and ALA advises people to “be careful about exposure to hazardous chemicals which could be a cancer risk. Talk to your supervisor and get personal protection equipment.”
“Particle pollution is a big issue in Delaware still and contributes to lung cancers,” said Brown — “evidence of an increased risk. We need to clean up the air in our community.”
“I know the lung association has long been working on zero-emission vehicles, wind and solar, which are better sources of clean energy,” said Brown regarding carbon-based pollution.
The report found that Delaware ranked:
• 35 in the nation for rate of new lung cancer cases at 62.2 people per 100,000. This marks a 28 percent improvement over the last five years. The national rate is 56.7 per 100,000.
• 16 in the nation for survival at 26 percent and marks a 26 percent improvement over the past five years. The national rate of people alive five years after a lung cancer diagnosis is 25 percent.
• 9 in the nation for early diagnosis at 27.8 percent and marks a 22 percent improvement over the last five years. Nationally, only 25.8 percent of cases are diagnosed at an early stage when the survival rate is much higher.
• 11 in the nation for lung cancer screening at 8.9 percent. Lung cancer screening with annual low-dose CT scans for those at high risk can reduce the lung cancer death rate by up to 20 percent. Nationally, only 5.8 percent of those at high risk were screened.
• 23 in the nation for surgery at 20 percent, marking a 50 percent improvement over the past five years. Lung cancer can often be treated with surgery if it is diagnosed at an early stage and has not spread. Nationally, 20.8 percent of cases underwent surgery.
• 24 in the nation for lack of treatment at 19.2 percent. Nationally, 20.6 percent of cases receive no treatment.
The “State of Lung Cancer” report asserts that Delaware must do more to reduce the burden of lung cancer.
“The ‘State of Lung Cancer’ report really looks at all the states and Delaware,” said Brown. “We have examined the key indicators like new cases, survival, early diagnosis, screening rates.”
“You can take a real quick quiz to see if you meet the criteria, and 14.2 million in America meet these criteria for screening,” she said. “And in Delaware we have a rate of 8.9 percent who are eligible for getting a CT scan. You will get multiple pictures as you move in and out of the machine. The computer gives you detailed pictures.”
“Nationally, the screening number is just over 5 percent, so Delaware is doing well. It is above average, but we could always do better,” noted Brown.
Brown started her decades of service in Delaware at the American Lung Association right out of college after earning a bachelor’s degree in public health.
“I became involved in advocacy,” she said.
“As chief mission officer for ALA, my responsibility is to provide strategic direction for our health communications and our research,” said Brown. “We have 210 people who work in the mission area.”