Report finds West Virginia among the worst for smoking and lung cancer


CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Lung cancer is the nation’s leading cause of cancer deaths, and it’s estimated that 2,030 West Virginia residents will be diagnosed with this disease in 2020 alone.

According to a press release, the 2020 “State of Lung Cancer” report from the American Lung Association finds that while more Americans are surviving the disease, people of color are facing poorer health outcomes than white residents, and West Virginia can do more to improve screening, early diagnosis, treatment options and smoking cessation for all residents.

The 3rd annual “State of Lung Cancer” report examines the toll of lung cancer throughout the nation and outlines steps every state can take to better protect its residents from lung cancer. For the first time, this year’s report explores the lung cancer burden among racial and ethnic groups at the national and state levels.

This year’s “State of Lung Cancer” highlights the positive trend of increased lung cancer survival, as the nationwide five-year lung cancer survival rate of 22.6% reflects a 13% improvement over the past five years. In West Virginia, the survival rate is among the worst in the nation at 18.3%, ranking 44 out of 47 states measured; and the new case incidence rate of 80.1 per 100,000 people is second worst in the nation, ranking 50 out of 51, second only to Kentucky’s 91.4 per 100,000 people.

On average, the higher prevalence of smoking, the more lung cancer cases in a state. West Virginia has the highest smoking rate in the nation with 25.3% of adults who are current smokers. Greater state tobacco control and prevention efforts are necessary to improve lung health and save more lives.

“While we celebrate that more Americans are surviving lung cancer, too many people are being left behind, and the disease still remains the leading cause of cancer deaths,” Molly Pisciottano, Director of Advocacy, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, American Lung Association said in the release. “The ‘State of Lung Cancer’ report finds that West Virginia has the most adult smokers in the nation and is among the worst for new lung cancer cases, five-year survival after diagnosis, and lung cancer screening for those at high risk. Much more can and must be done in West Virginia to prevent the disease and support those facing the disease.”

Part of the reason that lung cancer is so deadly is because most cases are diagnosed at a later stage, after the disease has spread. Lung cancer can often be treated with surgery if it is diagnosed at an early stage and has not spread. West Virginia is average for early diagnosis at 23.8%, which reflects a 29% improvement over the last five years; and falls below average for surgery as the first course of treatment (ranking 27 out of 49 states measured) at 19%.

Lung cancer screening is the key to catching lung cancer early when the disease is most curable, but only 22.9% of lung cancer cases nationally are diagnosed at an early stage. While this simple screening test has been available since 2015, West Virginia is among the lowest in the nation for high-risk screening with only 2.7% of those eligible screened in 2019. The low screening rate is particularly significant as West Virginia has the highest percent of adults who currently smoke―and a smoking history is part of the criteria for being screened. While anyone can get lung cancer, smoking is the number one risk factor and is responsible for about 90% of lung cancer cases. 

“Lung cancer screening is a powerful tool to save lives,” Pisciottano said in the release. “It’s a relatively new test, and we’re only seeing a fraction of those who qualify actually getting screened. We’re pushing for greater awareness of this test to save more lives here in West Virginia.”

More treatment options are available for lung cancer than ever before, yet not everyone is receiving treatment following diagnosis. West Virginia falls below average for treatment after diagnosis (ranking 38 out of 48 states measured) with 18.4% of those diagnosed not receiving any form of treatment. 

“We want to ensure that everyone has access to treatment options and quality and affordable healthcare. No one who wants care should have to forgo treatment due to lack of access or cost,” Pisciottano said in the release.

Learn more about the “State of Lung Cancer” at

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