Lung cancer in NJ — survival rate up, but screening rate severely low
More patients in New Jersey are surviving their fight with lung cancer, but the survival rate would be even greater if more people had acted early enough to catch the problem, according to a state-by-state report released Tuesday by the American Lung Association.
The 4th annual State of Lung Cancer report records a mixed bag of results for the Garden State.
New Jersey ranks No. 5 in the nation for survival, with 27.5% of lung cancer patients making it at least five years after their diagnosis, according to the report. The rate represents an improvement of 18% of over the past five years.
The state also ranks No. 5 for the share of cases (25.7%) undergoing surgery as the first course of treatment.
"When surgery is that first option, prognosis drastically improves," said Michael Seilback, national assistant vice president for state public policy for the American Lung Association.
According to the report, New Jersey has seen a major improvement — 48% over five years — in early diagnosis. More than a quarter of cases are diagnosed at an early stage, when surgery is more likely an option and the five-year survival is much higher.
However, New Jersey is among the worst states for lung cancer screening, the report finds. Just 3% of individuals considered to be at high risk — based on age and smoking history — are getting annual low-dose CT scans. These scans can reduce the lung cancer death rate by up to 20%, the American Lung Association said.
"When folks are screened, you find the cancer much earlier, sometimes even before you are showing any symptoms," Seilback said.
New Jersey ranks No. 32 among the states for the share of lung cancer cases that received no treatment (22%). The American Lung Association noted that some cases may be caught so late that a viable course of action isn't available, but said that no one should go untreated because of stigma associated with lung cancer, lack of provider or patient knowledge, or cost of treatment.
The report pointed out that people of color who are diagnosed with lung cancer face worse outcomes compared to white individuals. For example, Black individuals in New Jersey are 33% more likely to receive no treatment than white residents. Latino Americans in New Jersey are 16% more likely to receive no treatment than white Americans.
In March 2021, the United States Preventive Services Task Force expanded its recommendation for lung cancer screening to include a larger age range and more current or former smokers.