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Arkansas ranks near bottom in new State of Lung Cancer report

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Arkansas ranks toward the bottom for new cases of lung cancer in a new report released by the American Lung Association.

Arkansas ranks as one of the worst states in the nation for new cases of lung cancer. The annual State of Lung Cancer report released by the American Lung Association on Tuesday shows Arkansas ranks 49th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for new cases, and sits below the national average for rates of survival.

Zach Jump, national senior director of epidemiology and statistics for the American Lung Association, said “You want a low number and unfortunately Arkansas has a rather high one.”

He said it is likely the lung cancer rate is high due to the high smoking rates in Arkansas.

“Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Historical smoking rates are a very strong predictor of current lung cancer rates,” Jump said.

In Arkansas, the national average of people alive five years after a lung cancer diagnosis is almost 21%, which is below the national average of 23.7%. Previously, the national average was 14.5%. The increase of the survival rate did not apply to communities of color.

The national average of people of color alive five years after a lung cancer diagnosis is 20%, but for Black Americans, it remains at only 18%.

For Black Arkansans, the report showed they are less likely to receive surgical treatment compared to white patients. Lung cancer, if diagnosed at an early stage, can often be treated by surgery.

The state ranked below average for residents undergoing surgery, settling in at 42 out of 49 in the nation for surgery at 16.8%.

Arkansas ranked 23rd out of 49 in the nation for early diagnosis and 38th out of 50 in the nation for lung cancer screening at 3.5%.

“Screening for lung cancer is relatively new compared to other cancer screening modalities, and we know that for those at high risk and recommended annual screening with low-dose CT can reduce the lung cancer mortality rate by 20%. It basically does this by helping you catch those tumors early,” Jump said.

According to the report, nationally, only 5.7% of those at high risk were screened. Arkansas is well below the national average.

The press release from the American Lung Association said, “In March of 2021, the United States Preventive Services Task Force expanded its recommendation for screening to include a larger age range and more current or former smokers. This dramatically increased the number of women and Black Americans who are eligible for lung cancer screening.”

“Screening is currently our best bet to helping those who already have a smoking history,” Jump said, “We know access to healthcare is a really big driver and something that is a little more universal that we can recommend.”

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.
Remington Miller is a reporter/anchor for KUAR News. She was previously an intern at the station as part of the George C. Douthit Endowed Scholarship program. Miller is a student at UA Little Rock and studies Journalism and English. She is to graduate in May 2022.