Only 26% of NYers diagnosed with lung cancer live 5 years, but that's highest in U.S.

Nov 13, 2019

The good news is that New York State is tied for first in five-year life expectancy for someone diagnosed with lung cancer. The bad news is that the top score is just over 26% making it to five years.

Basically, lung cancer is diagnosed so late doctors can't do much. Just over 21% of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage and approaching 4% of those at risk for lung cancer have been screened.

Now, the situation is a little better because new testing is allowing better and earlier diagnosis. American Lung Association New York Advocacy Director Elizabeth Hamlin said New York leads.

"Tied with Connecticut for the best five-year survival rate in the country and we are also ahead of the curve in early detection and surgery," she said. "So our people in New York State are being diagnosed early and about 24.1% of those people are being diagnosed early."

Lung cancer shows as the dark circular spot in the bottom right corner.
Credit American Lung Association

However, this year, more than 13,000 New Yorkers will be diagnosed with what is the worst cancer killer of American men and women. Hamlin said the cuplrit is tobacco, especially menthol cigarettes.

"The menthol problem is very big because it's an anesthetic, so when people inhale, your throat goes a little bit numb. People can take a deeper inhale and therefore, there's a correlation to deeper inhale, smoking and having more of a nicotine addiction," Hamlin said.

Menthol cigarettes are heavily marketed to people of color. Hamlin said her group has been pushing hard in Albany to bar sales of menthol cigarettes and flavored vaping liquids, as well as more education about lung cancer and testing.

"Access to care, making sure that people have access to care so that they can be diagnosed for diseases like lung cancer," she said, "and also we are always looking to protect our air and our air quality."

Some of that might change with a new state law taking effect Wednesday, which raises the age for purchase of tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21. Hamlin said raising the age should create an effective barrier for teens who used to be able to get an older friend to buy tobacco products for them.

"Twenty-one-year-olds are now legal adults," said Hamlin. "A lot of them are in college; a lot of them are just not hanging around with teenagers anymore."

A measure to increase the legal smoking age received bipartisan support in the New York State Legislature last spring. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the measure into law on July 16. The proposed legislation followed a December 2018 announcement by the U.S. surgeon general stating that e-cigarette use increased by 78% among high school students from 2017 to 2018.

New York joins 17 other states and Washington, D.C., with a legal smoking age of 21.

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Beth Adams contributed to this story.