Study shows decrease in certain lung cancer deaths

by Vicky Cerino, UNMC strategic communications | October 26, 2021

Image with caption: Apar Ganti, MD

Apar Ganti, MD

A lung cancer expert at UNMC says a large, yearlong study underscores the need for increased -- and regular -- screenings for lung cancer.  

Study results, which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s Oncology on Oct. 21, update the incidence of lung cancer in the U.S. and emphasize the importance of earlier detection and newer treatments in improving survival from lung cancer.

UNMC’s Apar Ganti, MD, said the results were significant and suggest that as lung cancer is diagnosed at earlier stages, survival increases. First author on the study, Dr. Ganti is a lung cancer expert in the UNMC Division of Oncology-Hematology and sees patients at Nebraska Medicine and the VA Nebraska Western Iowa Health Care System.

In the study, he found the incidence of one type of lung cancer -- non-small cell lung cancer -- decreased between 2010 and 2017 in the United States. "This was mainly due to a decrease in the incidence of stage II to stage IV lung cancer," he said. "The five-year survival was 26.4%, which was higher than has been previously reported."

Dr. Ganti also found the use of screenings to detect early lung cancer woefully underused. He said he hopes information from the study will encourage more lung cancer screening.

"Diagnosing lung cancer at an earlier stage is important and lung cancer screening should be emphasized," he said.

Screenings, he said, are with a low dose CT scan and are approved by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and paid for by insurance.

"Unfortunately, screenings for lung cancer are not as common as we would like, he said, noting physicians must order it, but patients can request it from their primary care provider. In Nebraska, in 2018, less than 4% of eligible individuals received lung cancer screening.

He said the task force recommends yearly lung cancer screening for people who:

  • Smoke at least 20 packs or more a year
  • Smoke now or have quit within the past 15 years and
  • Are between 50 and 80 years old

Dr. Ganti said the study also supported earlier findings that patients over the age of 65 with stage IV lung cancer were less likely to be offered treatment.

"The most common reason seems to be that oncologists and patients alike feel they may not be able to tolerate treatment, even though the majority of the research shows that a fit older person does just as well as a fit younger person," he said.

Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca funded the yearlong study, which analyzed information from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results, a large database that included cancer patients in the United States. The team studied information on 1.28 million people.

Lynn Borstelmann
October 26, 2021 at 10:10 AM

This is such important work and information to share across Nebraska communities and providers. Thank you Dr. Ganti for leading this study.

Jerrie Dayton
October 26, 2021 at 9:55 AM

It's alarming to learn that screenings for early detection of lung cancers are not being done often. Especially in Nebraska where there are so many airborne contaminants and exposures to farmers and ranchers. This should be a routine part of a check-up like a mammogram is for women.