South lags on lung cancer

A report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had some encouraging numbers regarding instances of lung cancer nationally, though it appears our region of the country is lagging behind still.

Across the country from 2005 to 2008, the rate of lung cancer in males dropped 3 percent. The rate of males being diagnosed with new instances of lung cancer dropped in 35 of the 44 states studied. That decline is more of the same for men, who have been seeing their rate of this disease drop for years.

For women, however, the news hasn’t been as good until recent years. Over the past two decades, lung cancer has overtaken breast cancer to become the No. 1 cancer killer of women, CDC officials say. That’s one reason why this report is encouraging. from ’06 to ’08, the lung cancer rates for women fell 2 percent, thanks largely to significant drops in six states — California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Texas and Florida. The changes in those states was enough to pull the overall lung cancer rate for women down despite slight increases in 14 states.

The downside to this report — from our perspective, at least — is that most of the gains in reducing lung cancer rates are happening out West. Rates are still high in the South, even though five states in our region of the country were among the six that were not included in the report because of problems with numbers on incidences from earlier years covered in the report. Because they didn’t have good data on those five states, the report’s authors didn’t include percentages for our region. They did note, however, that nearly half of states with higher smoking prevalence for women and more than a third of states with higher lung cancer incidence are in the South.

The connection between lung cancer and tobacco — particularly cigarettes — is no secret. Medical professionals attribute about 90 percent of lung cancer cases to smoking, and nationally about one out of every five people smoke. Most of the states that fall below that mark tend to be in the West.

“Looking at trends in lung cancer incidence and smoking from 1999 to 2008, the report finds that the lung cancer rate continues to fall among men and is beginning to decline among women, who started smoking at high rates later than men,” said Matthew L. Myers president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “The report also finds that lung cancer rates are lower and declining faster in states with low smoking rates and high rates of smokers who have quit, especially in California and other Western states. Lung cancer rates are highest in Southern and Midwestern states with the highest rates of smoking.

“It is good news for the nation’s health that we are making progress against lung cancer, most of which is caused by smoking. But it is troubling that the United States has become a nation of haves and have-nots when it comes to reducing smoking and lung cancer. Many Americans have a greater risk of lung cancer because of where they live and because their elected leaders have failed to implement proven measures to reduce tobacco use.”

So, progress is being made against this killer, but there is still much work to do — especially in our neck of the woods.