New Hampshire’s efforts to prevent lung cancer earned the state high marks in the latest report from the American Lung Association.
Released Wednesday morning, the second-annual State of Lung Cancer examined the toll of lung cancer throughout the nation, as well as steps each state can take to better protect its residents from the disease. The report measures rates of survival, early diagnosis and availability of surgical and other forms of treatment.
The organization’s recommendations for lung cancer prevention in each state depend on a variety of factors, such as smoking rates and radon levels, according to Lee Beth Gilman, senior director of health promotions for the American Lung Association’s New Hampshire and Maine chapters.
This year’s report showed an increased five-year lung cancer survival rate — the percentage of people still alive five years after their diagnosis — of 21.7 percent nationally, compared to 17.2 percent a decade ago. For New Hampshire, the survival rate is 24.8 percent in cases diagnosed from 2009 to 2015, compared to 23.1 percent from 2008 to 2012.
This ranks the Granite State in the top tier, along with Colorado, New Jersey, Delaware, New York, Minnesota and Connecticut, where the five-year survival rate is highest at 26.4 percent.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of death among cancers for men and women in the U.S., according to the association. By year’s end, the American Cancer Society estimates, about 142,670 people will have died from lung cancer in 2019.
The earlier the disease is detected, the better the patient’s outcome, the report notes.
The disease can be caught in its early stages through a screening process that became available in 2015.
The report shows 11.3 percent of those eligible in New Hampshire have been screened for lung cancer, placing the state third in the nation behind Massachusetts and Vermont.
An ounce of prevention
Gilman pointed to New Hampshire’s smoking cessation programs and hotlines as part of the reason it scored so well.
In 2017, just over 15 percent of New Hampshire adults said they smoked tobacco, according to data from the Truth Initiative, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing tobacco use.
Nationally, 14 percent of adults reported smoking tobacco, according to 2017 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To stop smoking, people in the Granite State can use the free QuitNow New Hampshire nicotine replacement therapy program through the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services.
Locally, the Cheshire Coalition for Tobacco-Free Communities, sponsored and staffed by Cheshire Medical Center, offers several treatment programs for those wanting to quit.
In 2018, the coalition provided tobacco cessation counseling to 369 people, according to Shawn LaFrance, vice president of population health at Cheshire Medical.
LaFrance added that the coalition led the effort for Keene to adopt a 2018 ordinance that raised the age to buy, use or possess tobacco and nicotine products in the city from 18 to 21.
But even with the resources available in New Hampshire, Gilman said there’s still room for improvement in regard to early detection.
About 21.5 percent of lung-cancer cases are caught at an early stage in the United States, according to the American Lung Association’s report. Cases in New Hampshire are diagnosed at an early stage 22.5 percent of the time.
Those numbers need to be higher, Gilman said.
“We need to continue to get the word out to the public that these screenings are available, work with health care providers to assess their patients,” she said. “The challenge is, it doesn’t matter what the screening is for, people are nervous to get a screening and find out the answer.”
But, she said screenings can make all the difference in survival. Screenings are recommended for those at high risk of developing lung cancer, including people between the ages of 55 and 80, who have at least a 30-year smoking history or currently smoke, the American Lung Association’s website states.
The association notes that screenings are covered by most private insurances and Medicaid if the patient is at high risk.
“We certainly have heard lots of stories [of people] who have been screened, been treated and now are cancer free,” Gilman said, “so we are really working hard to get that message out.”