What Is the Average Age for a Lung Cancer Diagnosis?

While most people refer to the "average age" in casual conversation, most statistics refer to the median age rather than the average. The median age is the halfway point: half of all diagnoses happen below that age, and half happen above that age. The average is all the ages added up and then divided by the number of cases. So if four people are diagnosed at ages 20, 21, 23, and 28, the average is 23, but the median is 22. 

The median age for a diagnosis of lung cancer is 72, according to the most recent statistics collected between 2008 and 2012. From 1975 to 1999 the median age for a diagnosis of lung cancer was 66.

Women vs. Men

The median age for lung cancer is slightly different for men and women in most studies. Women tend to develop lung cancer at a younger age than men by roughly 2 years. There are also a disproportionate number of women among people who develop lung cancer at a young age (less than 50 years). If this happens to be you, make sure to check out the information below.

Age of Lung Cancer Diagnosis Broken Down by Decades

The percentage of lung cancers that are diagnosed at each age is as follows (for example, for every 100 cases of lung cancer, 20 of them will be diagnosed in people age 55 to 64):

  • Age 20 to 34 – 0.2%
  • Age 35 to 44 – 1.5%
  • Age 45 to 54 – 8.8%
  • Age 55 to 64 – 20.9%
  • Age 65 to 74 – 31.1%
  • Age 75 to 84 – 29%
  • Age 85 and older – 8.3%

If You Are Under the Age of 40 (or 50)

If you are under the age of 40 you may be feeling a little shocked and even more alone. We are learning that lung cancer in young adults—something that is increasing—is often quite different from lung cancer in older patients.

There are many excellent lung cancer organizations that provide help and support for people with lung cancer, but one reaches out specifically to those that are young with the disease. The Bonnie Addario Lung Cancer Foundation has done a wonderful job of connecting young adults with lung cancer and is actively studying some of the ways in which lung cancer is different in this group. You can hear a video from Bonnie Addario discussing how this came to be. One significant difference is that a large percentage of people in this group have targetable gene mutations. While it is important for anyone with non-small cell lung cancer to have gene profiling (molecular profiling) done on their tumor, it is extremely important in people who are younger with the disease. Learn other ways in which lung cancer in young adults is different.

If You are Over the Age of 70

If you are over the age of 70 it's important to mention a few things as well. There seems to be a myth that people who are older are unable to tolerate the aggressive treatments that those who are younger with the disease can handle. Thankfully research has demonstrated this to be a myth, but the general knowledge of this is hanging behind.

There are several things to be aware of if you have lung cancer as an older adult. One is that surgery for early-stage lung cancer is, in general, okay. Studies looking at adults up to the age of 85 with good performance status—meaning they were otherwise in fairly good health—found they tolerated some of these procedures almost as well as younger patients. The same has been seen with chemotherapy.

An important note to make is that many of the newer treatments for lung cancer—ones which are improving the survival rate—are much easier to tolerate than traditional chemotherapy. This includes medications known as targeted therapy as well as immunotherapy.

Support and Coping

No matter your age when diagnosed with lung cancer it's terrifying. Reach out to your family and friends for support. This isn't the time to be the "strong one" and most people really want to help. In fact, the biggest complaint from loved ones of those with cancer seems to be a feeling of helplessness. Learn all you can about your disease. Even if you aren't a social person, check into lung cancer support groups in your community or the wonderful lung cancer community online. These can be priceless not only in providing support but in sharing knowledge on new treatments and how to cope with the disease. And, take a moment to make sure you are your own advocate in your cancer care

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Additional Reading
  • Fu, J. et al. Lung Cancer in Women – Analysis of the National Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Database. Chest. 2005. 127(3):768-777.
  • National Cancer Institute. Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results. SEER Stat Fact Sheets: Lung and Bronchus. http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/lungb.html