How Common Is Lung Cancer?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2020.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 2016 (the most recent year that numbers are available), 218,229 people in the United States were diagnosed with lung cancer. New cases of lung cancer have been trending down slowly since 1999.1

More men than women get lung cancer. In 2016, 113,044 men were diagnosed with lung cancer compared to 105,185 women.1

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2020, 228,820 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer (116,300 in men and 112,520 in women). There will be about 135,720 deaths from lung cancer (72,500 in men and 63,220 in women).2

Most cases of lung cancer are non-small lung cancers (84 percent). Only 13 percent are small cell lung cancer.2

The leading cause of cancer deaths

Almost 1 in 4 cancer deaths are due to lung cancer, making it the number 1 cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. More people die from lung cancer than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. However, lung cancer deaths are slowly dropping because it is being found earlier, treatments have improved, and more people are quitting smoking.2

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The percentage of lung cancer deaths is highest among people 65 and older. Very few people are diagnosed with lung cancer before age 45. The average age that someone is diagnosed is 70.2

Rates are decreasing

The rates for new cases of lung cancer have been decreasing over time, falling 2.2 percent each year for the last 10 years. Death rates have also been declining, falling on average 3.3 percent each year between 2008 and 2017. Five-year survival (living at least 5 years from diagnosis) rates are improving. The most recent data shows a 5-year survival rate of 14.6 percent in 1995 increased to 20 percent in 2012.3

Who is more likely to get lung cancer?

  • Men are more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer than women, but more women live with lung cancer.1
  • Black men are more likely to develop and die from lung cancer than white men. Black women are less likely to develop lung cancer than white women, but die from their disease at almost the same rates.3
  • Black men have the highest rates of lung cancer, followed by white, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Hispanic men.1,3
  • Among women, white women get lung cancer the most, followed by black, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Hispanic women.1
  • Lung cancer mostly affects older people. It is most commonly diagnosed in people 65-84 years old. It is rarely diagnosed before age 55.1,3
  • Between 2013 and 2017, 70.4 percent of new lung cancer cases were in people 65 and older.3

Where you live matters too. In 2016, people living in Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, and West Virginia had the highest rates of new cases of lung cancer. Western states had the lowest rates of new cases of lung cancer.1

Rates increased with smoking

Lung cancer increased dramatically over most of the 20th century in the U.S. as more and more men, and later women, began smoking at progressively younger ages. Men in America began smoking earlier in the 20th century, with women smoking more after World War II.4

Statistics show that quitting smoking at any age greatly lowers the risk of death from all major smoking-related diseases, including lung cancer. Nearly all the risk of death from smoking-related diseases can be avoided if someone quits smoking before age 40.4

While doctors know that vaping causes lung damage, they do not yet know if vaping causes lung cancer in the same way that cigarette smoking does.5

While smoking is a risk factor for lung cancer, anyone can get lung cancer.