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How Common Is Lung Cancer?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in 2015 (the most recent year that numbers are available), 218,527 people in the United States were diagnosed with lung cancer. That includes 113,535 men with lung cancer and 104,992 women with lung cancer.1 The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2019, 228,150 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer (116,440 in men and 111,710 in women), and there will be about 142,670 deaths from lung cancer (76,650 in men and 66,020 in women).2

The leading cause of cancer deaths

Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S. More people die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer. In fact, as of 2015, more people die each year from lung cancer than from colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined.1 The percentage of lung cancer deaths is highest among people 65-74 years of age, with a median age at death of 70 years of age.3

Lung cancer statistics generally combine both small cell lung cancers and non-small cell lung cancers. Non-small cell lung cancer accounts for approximately 85% of lung cancers, with small cell lung cancer accounting for the remaining 15% of all lung cancers.4

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The rates for new cases of lung cancer have been decreasing over time, falling on average 1.8% each year over the last 10 years. Death rates have also been declining, falling on average 2.2% each year between 2004 and 2013. Five-year survival (living at least five years from diagnosis) rates are increasing, with the most recent data showing a 5-year survival rate of 16.8% in 2004 increasing to 18.6% between 2008-2014.3

Who gets lung cancer?

  • Men are more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer than women, but more women live with lung cancer.5
  • Black men are more likely to develop and die from lung cancer than white men. Black women have similar incidence rates of lung cancer compared to white women, but they are more likely to die from their disease.3,5
  • According to the CDC, black men have the highest incidence rate for lung cancer, followed by white, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Hispanic men.1
  • Among women, white women have the highest rate of getting lung cancer, followed by black American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Hispanic women.1
  • Lung cancer mostly affects the elderly. It is most commonly diagnosed in people 65-74 years of age. In 2011, 82% of lung cancer patients were 60 years of age or older.3,5

Incidence of lung cancer

Lung cancer increased dramatically over most of the 20th century in the U.S. as successive generations of men, and later women, began smoking at progressively younger ages. Men in America began smoking earlier in the 20th century, with women increasing smoking after World War II.6

Statistical analyses have demonstrated that quitting smoking at any age significantly 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 40.6

Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: March 2019.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed online on 3/29/19 at
  2. American Cancer Society. Accessed online on 8/1/16 at
  3. SEER Cancer Statistics Factsheets: Lung and Bronchus Cancer. National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD. Accessed online on 3/29/19 at
  4., a Program of CancerCare. Accessed online on 8/1/16 at
  5. American Lung Association. Accessed online on 8/1/16 at
  6. Thun MJ, Carter BD, Feskanich D, Freedman ND, Prentice R, Lopez AD, Hartge P, Gapstur SM. 50-year trends in smoking-related mortality in the United States. N Engl J Med. 2013 Jan 24;368(4):351-64.