Lung Cancer Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

Lung and bronchus cancer kills 350 people per day

Many people know someone who has had lung cancer. It’s a frightening cancer diagnosis because, although it is so common, it's also deadly. 

While there are multiple types, lung cancer as a whole was the second most diagnosed cancer in 2020. It was estimated that in 2022 there would be close to 237,000 new lung cancer cases. And about 6% of the U.S. population will be diagnosed with lung cancer at some point in their lives.

Thanks to successful anti-smoking campaigns, the rate of new lung cancer diagnoses has been falling on average 2.1% per year. Death rates also fell about 3.8% per year from 2010 to 2019.

This article will highlight important facts and statistics you should know about lung and bronchus cancer.

Smoking person coughing

Ljupco / Getty Images

Lung Cancer Overview

Lung and bronchus cancer is a disease caused by an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the lungs called a tumor. The tumor can impact your breathing, and the cancerous cells can spread to other tissues and organs. It’s one of the more deadly cancers and also one of the most common. 

How Common Is Lung Cancer?

Lung cancer was the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in people of any sex in 2020 (not counting skin cancers like basal and squamous cell carcinomas). The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimated there would be 236,740 new cases of lung and bronchus cancer diagnosed in 2022.

Approximately 1 in 16 people (6%) in the United States will be diagnosed with lung cancer at some point in their lives. In 2019, there were 576,924 people living with lung and bronchus cancer in the United States.

It was predicted that about 130,180 people with lung cancer would die in 2022. Lung cancer makes up 12.3% of all new cancer cases but 21.4% of cancer deaths. Lung cancer kills more people than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined each year. Lung cancer kills 350 people per day.

Lung Cancer by Ethnicity and Gender

Lung cancer closely reflects tobacco use trends. Lung and bronchus cancer is more common in men than women. About 1 in 15 men and 1 in 17 women will eventually develop lung cancer.

This gender dichotomy is strong in Black Americans. Black men have the highest lung cancer rates—about 12% are more likely to develop lung cancer than White men. Black women, on the other hand, are about 16% less likely to develop lung cancer than White women.

Lung and Bronchus Cancer in Men by Ethnicity
Ethnicity New Cases Deaths
All Races 58.9 44.5
Non-Hispanic White 64.0 47.0
Non-Hispanic Black 71.6 54.0
Non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander 44.4 26.9
Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native 52.9 42.3
Hispanic 33.5 22.1
The table shows new cases of and deaths from lung and bronchus cancer per 100,000 men, broken down by ethnicity. Data are from the NCI Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER) database averaged over the years 2015–2019.
Lung and Bronchus Cancer in Women by Ethnicity
Ethnicity New Cases Deaths
All Races 46.8 30.7
Non-Hispanic White 54.3 34.2
Non-Hispanic Black 45.6 29.2
Non-Hispanic Asian/Pacific Islander 28.5 15.9
Non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native 45.1 31.0
Hispanic 23.0 11.8
The table shows new cases of and deaths from lung and bronchus cancer per 100,000 women, broken down by ethnicity. Data from NCI SEER database averaged over the years 2015–2019.

Lung Cancer by Age

Cancer generally is more prevalent in older people than younger. This age-specificity is especially true for lung and bronchus cancer. Your risk of developing cancer due to smoking increases with how many pack-years a person has smoked. Most people diagnosed with lung cancer are over 65.

Pack-years are the number of years of smoking a pack a day. If you smoke half a pack a day for five years, you have 2.5 pack years. But if you smoke 1.5 packs a day for five years, that’s 7.5 pack-years. 

The longer a smoker lives, the longer they’ve likely smoked and the more pack years they’ve accumulated. Smoking was also more common decades ago. Cancers are just generally more common the older a patient gets. Cells accumulate more cancer-causing genetic mutations, and the body’s defense systems deteriorate.

Lung and Bronchus Cancer Deaths by Age
New Cases Deaths
Under 20 0% 0% 
20–34 0.2% 0.1%
35–44 0.9% 0.6%
45–54 5.6% 4.9%
55–64 22.1% 20.2%
65–74 34.9% 32.5%
75–84 26.8% 28.7%
Over 84 9.4% 13.1%
The table shows how many of the new cases and deaths from lung and bronchus cancer fall into each age group. Data are from NCI SEER database averaged over the years 2015–2019.

Causes of Lung Cancer and Risk Factors

While most cancers don’t have one clear cause, there is an apparent reason why most people get lung cancer—tobacco use. About 81% of lung cancer deaths are due to smoking.

Causes of lung cancer include:

  • Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
  • Radon exposure (an odorless gas that can build up in basements)

Risk factors for lung cancer include:

  • Chemical exposure (typically at work)
  • Radiation exposure (typically through medical treatments)
  • Other medical conditions, including various cancers
  • Genetics, including a family history of lung cancer

What Are the Mortality Rates for Lung Cancer?

The five-year survival rate for lung and bronchus cancer, based on data collected between 2012 and 2018, is 22.9%. That means that only 22.9% of people with lung and bronchus cancer are alive five years after being diagnosed. That’s a mortality rate for lung and bronchus cancer of 77.1% five years after diagnosis.

People with lung cancer have the highest likelihood of surviving when healthcare providers catch the disease early—before it has spread to the lymph nodes.

The five-year survival rate for localized lung and bronchus cancer is 61.2%. Once cancer has spread to the lymph nodes (regional spread), the survival rate is 33.5%. Cancer that has spread to distant sites (become metastatic) has the lowest survival rate—just 7%.

Lung cancer is so deadly because many people don’t know they have it until it has already spread—55% of lung cancer is already at the distant stage when diagnosed.

Early detection and screening for lung cancer have been beneficial. Catching it before it spreads considerably impacts the mortality rate. Screening leads to cancers being diagnosed earlier and people living longer. 

Survival Rates

Survival rates can be complicated. Survival rates are the percent of people who are still living with the disease for a certain amount of time. They're presented in many different ways.

The rate of new lung and bronchus cancer diagnoses had been falling on average by 2.1% annually between 2010 and 2019. Death rates had also been falling—about 3.8% yearly from 2010 to 2019. Falling death rates are due to decreased smoking, new treatments, and earlier diagnoses through screenings.

Screening and Early Detection of Lung Cancer

Screenings for lung cancer are relatively new and are only relevant for people at high risk of lung cancer. Those who have a higher prevalence of developing the disease include people between 50 and 80 years old who meet both of the following criteria:

  • A 20-pack year smoking history
  • Current smokers or have quit in the past 15 years

Healthcare providers screen for lung cancer using an imaging technique called a computed tomography (CT) scan that uses a low dose of radiation to scan the lungs for signs of cancer.

People at high risk get scanned every year to look for new changes in the lungs. These changes in the lungs don’t always mean cancer. Studies found the vast majority (94% to 98.5%) of these nodules are not cancerous. These studies found screening can help detect cancer at an earlier stage, when it is more treatable.

The lives saved by finding these cancers early for the high-risk, older age groups with a higher prevalence of developing lung and bronchus cancer outweigh the negatives of false positives (finding something that turns out not to be cancer) and the potential dangers of radiation from screenings.

The National Lung Screening Trial found that lung cancer screening of 1,000 high-risk individuals can prevent five deaths, including three from lung cancer.

Summary

Lung cancer is a prevalent and very deadly disease. It was determined that in 2022 around 236,740 new cases of lung and bronchus cancer would be diagnosed, and about 130,180 people with lung cancer would die. More than 500,000 people live with lung and bronchus cancer in the  United States.

From 2010 to 2019, new lung cancer diagnoses dropped by 2.1% each year, and death rates decreased by 3.8% yearly.

The leading cause of lung cancer is tobacco smoking. This cancer is more common in men, especially Black men. New treatments, early detection, and anti-smoking campaigns have steadily improved both case numbers and death rates for lung cancer. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is lung cancer always deadly?

    Lung cancer is one of the deadliest cancers, with only 22.9% of people with lung cancer surviving for five years after being diagnosed. But the earlier the cancer is found, the better a person’s prognosis.

  • What causes lung cancer?

    While most cancers don’t have one clear cause, tobacco use is the number one reason most people get lung cancer. Around 81% of lung cancer deaths are due to smoking.

  • What are some early signs of lung cancer?

    Early signs of lung cancer include: 

    • Persistent cough
    • Chest pain
    • Shortness of breath
    • Unintentional weight loss
    • Hoarseness or wheezing
    • Coughing up blood

    Many diseases can cause these symptoms, but if you have them and you’re older and at high risk for lung cancer, talk to your healthcare provider.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  6. National Cancer Institute. Lung and bronchus SEER 5-year relative survival rates, 2012-2018.

  7. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for lung cancer: US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. JAMA. 2021;325(10):962–970. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.1117

  8. Walter JE, Heuvelmans MA, De Jong PA, et al. Occurrence and lung cancer probability of new solid nodules at incidence screening with low-dose CT: analysis of data from the randomised, controlled NELSON trial. Lancet Oncol. 2016;17(7):907-16. doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(16)30069-9;

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  11. American Lung Association. Do you have lung cancer symptoms?

By Jennifer Welsh
Jennifer Welsh is a Connecticut-based science writer and editor with over ten years of experience under her belt. She’s previously worked and written for WIRED Science, The Scientist, Discover Magazine, LiveScience, and Business Insider.