Lung Cancer: Facts & Figures

Incidence in Minnesota:

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in MN

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosis among Minnesota males and females and is the leading cause of cancer mortality in Minnesota. Lung cancer kills more than twice as many men as prostate cancer and nearly twice as many women as breast cancer in Minnesota.

In Minnesota, there is considerable regional variation in lung cancer rates, especially among females. The highest rates for females are found in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, the Northeast and the Central regions of the state; the rates in Southwestern Minnesota are 30% lower. Over time, this trend is likely to change since smoking patterns have become much more uniform across the state. However, smoking prevalence varies dramatically by education level; currently about 30% of adults in Minnesota without a high school education currently smoke, compared to only 8% among college graduates.

From 2011 to 2013, an average of 1,704 males and 1,597 females in Minnesota were diagnosed with lung cancer each year in Minnesota and nearly as many died from lung cancer. Dramatic differences in incidence rates exist among race and ethnicity within Minnesota.


Lung & bronchus cancer in Minnesota

Age-adjusted rate of new lung & bronchus cancer cases.
Age-adjusted rate of new lung & bronchus cancer cases.

Since 1988, the incidence rate of lung & bronchus cancer in males has decreased by 20%. In sharp contrast, the incidence rate of lung & bronchus cancer in females increased by more than 30% since 1988 but has been stable since 2003. This difference between males and females likely reflects smoking patterns over time - women started smoking later in the century than men. Most recently, the age-adjusted incidence rate of lung & bronchus cancer was 63.9 new cases per 100,000 males and 51.1 new cases per 100,000 females.


Lung & bronchus cancer in Minnesota, by race/ethnicity

Age-adjusted rate of new lung & bronchus cancer cases, aggregated from 2004 to 2013.
Age-adjusted rate of new lung & bronchus cancer cases, aggregated from 2004 to 2013.

A large difference in lung cancer incidence exists among different race/ethnicity categories in Minnesota (a four-fold difference overall). Over the last 10 years, the rate of lung cancer was highest among American Indians (about 125 new cases of lung cancer per 100,000 American Indians) and lowest among Asian/Pacific Islanders (about 30 new cases of lung cancer per 100,000 Asian/Pacific Islanders).


Lung & bronchus cancer in Minnesota, by age

Rate of new lung & bronchus cancer cases, aggregated from 2004 to 2013.
Rate of new lung & bronchus cancer cases, aggregated from 2004 to 2013.

The rate of lung cancer increases with age in each sex. The highest rate of lung cancer is among males aged 70-84 years.

What is lung cancer?

Lung cancer forms in lung tissue, usually in the cells lining the air passages. This cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. More people die from lung cancer than from breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers combined in the United States and in Minnesota.

What are the risk factors for lung cancer?

  • Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Approximately 90% of lung cancers in males and 80% in females are caused by smoking, and it increases risk for many other cancers as well.
  • Radon, a common indoor pollutant and second leading cause of lung cancer, enters the home from the surrounding soil. About one in three Minnesota homes have enough radon to pose a risk to the occupants' health over many years of exposure.
  • Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), also known as secondhand smoke, is a known human carcinogen. According to the CDC and EPA, it is the third leading cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking and exposure to radon.
  • Occupational exposures to known and probable carcinogens (e.g., occupations with exposure to arsenicasbestos, beryllium, cadmium, or radon) account for a small but significant number of lung cancers.
  • Other risk factors: Exposure to arsenic, asbestos, and diesel exhaust are other risk factors. Air pollution may cause a small increase in lung cancer.

Because the overwhelming majority of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking, it is difficult to assess other environmental causes of lung cancer, even those causes that are well established.

How can lung cancer be prevented?

  • Avoid smoking and environmental tobacco smoke (also known as secondhand smoke). Policies such as increased tobacco tax and smoking bans have been effective in reducing the prevalence of smoking.
  • Radon mitigation (if needed) and workplace safety (where lung carcinogens exist) can also reduce risk.
  • Increasing fruit and vegetable intake is a good idea for many health reasons, although evidence supporting this prevention strategy for lung cancer is unclear.