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Arkansas' ranking unchanged in annual lung cancer report

An artist's illustration shows lung cancer cells lurking among healthy air sacs.
David Mack
Science Source via NPR
An artist's illustration shows lung cancer cells lurking among healthy air sacs.

While the state improved in some metrics compared to last year, Arkansas continues to rank as one of the worst states for new cases of lung cancer.

The annual State of Lung Cancer report by the American Lung Association released Tuesday shows Arkansas ranks 49th for new cases, at about 76 per 100,000 people. That’s unchanged since last year’s report.

Laura Turner, the American Lung Association’s senior manager for advocacy, says annual screenings are one of the best ways to improve health outcomes.

“Before they were doing regular screening, we weren’t really catching more cases until stage 3 or 4, when it’s harder to treat. So now that we do have that screening, there’s plenty of people eligible to be screened but the awareness isn’t quite there,” Turner said, adding only 5.8% of all eligible Americans have been screened.

Screening with a low-dose CT scan is recommended for current or former smokers between 50 and 80 years old with at least a 20 “pack year” history. That can mean someone who smoked a pack of cigarettes each day for 20 years, or two packs daily for 10 years.

Turner says, while it’s a crucial tool, screening is often out-of-reach for those who can’t afford it.

“We really do need to include lung cancer screening in Medicaid coverage and expanded Medicaid as well, because that’s going to help us catch a lot of people earlier when it’s easier to treat, and they have a higher chance of survivability,” Turner said.

She says exposure to radon gas has also been linked to lung cancer diagnoses, and urged homeowners to inspect for it. Arkansas is one of seven states where it’s not required to disclose the presence of radon gas in real estate transactions.

Arkansas’ ranking improvedin several metrics of the annual State of Lung Cancer report. The state ranks 40th in the nation for five-year survival rate at 21.2%, up slightly from last year. The national average is 25%.

Arkansas mirrored the national average for early diagnosis of lung cancer at 25.8%. The state ranks 38th in the nation for lung cancer screening, 42nd for surgery, and 16th nationwide for lack of treatment. The state is behind only West Virginia for the number of current smokers, with 20.5% of adults actively using tobacco.

Despite some improvements, Black Arkansans are still less likely to receive surgical treatment for the disease compared to the national average. That, Turner says, leads to a worse survivability rate and makes Black lung cancer patients in the state less likely to receive any treatment for the disease.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.