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Florida falls 'below average' in lung cancer screenings

Image provided by the International Agency for Researching Cancer.
Image provided by the International Agency for Researching Cancer.

It’s National Lung Cancer awareness month, and a recent study suggests Florida scores below the average when it comes to lung cancer screenings and treatment. 

 The American Lung Association, which compiled data from 2015 to 2019, found that Florida was the 40th in the nation for lung cancer screening with only 3.4% of those facing the highest risk of lung cancer receiving screenings — the national rate is about 6%.

"The State of Lung Cancer" report also found that Florida ranked 44th in treatments.

Although, it wasn't all dark news for the Sunshine State.

While it is below average in screenings, numbers appear to favor Floridian patients' survival rate. Nationally, the five-year survival rate for lung cancer is 25%, which increased from 21% in 2014. However, in Florida, the rate of survival was found to be 26.5%.

Although, survival very much depends on timing and catching any red flags through early screening, said Ashley Lyerly, senior director at the American Lung Association.

"I think that getting as much information as you can, really will set the course for what the treatment is, and really begin to move the needle on survival," she said.

People of color face worse outcomes

Additionally, the report showed that people of color faced a different slew of problems compared to their white counterparts including a lower survival rate. They were also less likely to be diagnosed early, less likely to receive surgical treatment, and more likely to receive no treatment.

Of all demographics, black Americans were least likely to receive surgical treatment.

While the report indicates minority groups face different problems it wasn't able to illustrate a simple answer as to why.

"There's a lot of factors in play," Lyerly said. "Some of that has to do with access to care, access to health care, access to a primary care provider that you're seeing on a regular basis. There is also just generally a stigma associated with lung cancer. And I think that's something that the Lung Association and many organizations across Florida and the nation are really working hard to try to combat."

Florida's report card

The ALA report also found that Florida ranked:

  • 22nd in the nation for the rate of new lung cancer cases at 56.5 per 100,000. The national rate is 56.7 per 100,000.
  • 14th in the nation for survival at 26.5%. The national rate of people alive five years after a lung cancer diagnosis is 25%.
  • 37th in the nation for early diagnosis at 24.6%. Nationally, only 25.8% of cases are diagnosed at an early stage when the survival rate is much higher.
  • 20th in the nation for surgery at 20.7%. Lung cancer can often be treated with surgery if it is diagnosed at an early stage and has not spread. Nationally, 20.8% of cases underwent surgery.

Battling back cancer

The ALA stressed that the best way to fight back lung cancer is with screenings, adding that 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%.

While Florida's screening average was low, its ability to treat cancer is far from ill-equipped, Lyerly said, and improving Florida's screening numbers is a matter of public education.

“Florida is abundant in the number of medical centers that can treat and have access to this type of treatment. I think it's really just getting people to walk in the door. And so continuing to raise awareness and educate people that you have resources at your fingertips.”

Those who are eligible for screening include people between the ages of 50 to 80 and who have a history of smoking 1 pack a day for 20 years, or 2 packs a day for 10 years, and are either currently a smoker, or quit within the past 15 years.

The ALA is also trying to raise public awareness on who can get lung cancer, reminding people that you don't need to smoke cigarettes to develop the disease.

“Anyone who has lungs can get lung cancer," Lyerly said. "There is certainly a stigma associated with lung cancer given that one of the main reasons main causes of lung cancer is tobacco use. However, there are many other factors in play: exposure to radon, exposure to other toxins, and air pollution. So it's not only smokers that are getting lung cancer, but also nonsmokers.”

The State of Lung Cancer also found that Florida had a noteworthy level of homes containing dangerous amounts of radon. About 12.1% of Florida homes were above the recommended action level by the EPA for radon.

 The ALA suggested checking your home once a year for strong radon levels should also help reduce the chances of lung cancer.