HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii ranks last in the nation for the early diagnosis of lung cancer, according to a new study from the American Lung Association.
Just 2.8% of high-risk smokers in Hawaii undergo annual CT scans that capture detailed pictures of the lungs, compared to 5.7% nationally, the study said.
A state-by-state analysis also found that just 19% of lung cancer cases in Hawaii are diagnosed early, compared to 24.5% nationally, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that smokers and former smokers who are at high risk of developing lung cancer undergo the CT scans. The high-risk category includes adults between the ages of 55 and 80 who smoke a pack a day or more and former heavy smokers who quit in the past 15 years.
The annual screenings are limited to the highest-risk smokers, in part, due to the risk of false positive results, which can cause anxiety and lead to follow-up tests and procedures that aren’t needed and carry their own risk.
Detecting lung cancer early can dramatically improve the chances of successfully treating it. The five-year survival rate for people diagnosed early is 60%. The survival rate drops to 6% when spotted at a late stage.
The study found that Native Hawaiians are more likely to be diagnosed and die of lung cancer than other ethnic groups.
“So we need to be able to do a better job,” said Pedro Haro, executive director of the American Lung Association in Hawaii. “It’s a social justice issue in our state when it comes to Native Hawaiians.”
Haro said that sometimes people who quit smoking don’t consider themselves at high risk of lung cancer and don’t think to seek out annual screenings.
“So for someone who has quit smoking 10 years ago, smoking is no longer part of their regular lives,” said Haro. “They don’t see themselves as a smoker. They feel better. They breathe better. So they are not thinking about things like lung cancer or emphysema, or anything that could come in the future.”
Hawaii fares better than most states when it comes to its overall rate of lung cancer. But it’s still the most deadly form of cancer in the state, killing on average more than 500 residents annually.