Lung cancer is among the most common cancers in the Western world. In 2008, approximately 215,000 new cases of lung cancer were diagnosed in the United States and about 162,000 people died from the disease. Lung cancer is the leading cause for cancer death in men, and—since the late 1980s—it has surpassed breast cancer as the leading cause for cancer death in women. Findings from the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) indicate that the upward trend in cancer-related death is due to the rapidly increasing rate of lung cancer mortality.
Statistical projections suggest that lung cancer mortality will continue to rise to a rate of over 50 deaths per year per 100,000 population in the United States. However, lung cancer prevention programs are beginning to help reduce lung cancer mortality rates.
Lung cancer is especially common among men in North America, Europe, and Oceania, and rates of the disease are higher than ever before among people in central and Eastern Europe. In Japan, lung cancer has increased tenfold in men and eightfold in women since 1950. The highest rates of lung cancer in men are found in the Maori population of New Zealand, and in several African-American groups, including the African American populations of New Orleans, the San Francisco Bay area, Detroit, and Alameda County, California. In addition, the rate of lung cancer remains very high in western Scotland. However, low lung cancer rates are found in the men of undeveloped regions of India, Africa, and South America.
Lung cancer rates also are higher than normal among Maori women and some African American and Caucasian populations within the United States. In addition, Chinese women, many of whom are nonsmokers, have very high lung cancer rates. This phenomenon has been associated with exposure to cooking oil vapors and other forms of air pollution in the indoor environments of China.
Due to the low 5-year survival rate for lung cancer, there is a close relationship between the number of lung cancer cases and lung cancer deaths in the United States. Although lung cancer survival rates have improved over the last 40 years, the percentage (approximately 13%) continues to be low in comparison to other cancers.