New cases of lung cancer have dropped significantly, according to federal health officials, who attribute the decline to the effectiveness of tobacco control programs.
Lung cancer has been an onerous and deadly burden in American health care for decades. Much of the problem has been a direct result of smoking, a habit that reached its pinnacle in the 20th century and paralleled a rise in tobacco-product addiction.
But new research, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that analyzed the number of new lung cancer cases between 2005 and 2009 reveals a precipitous decrease in the disease.
The incidence of lung cancer dropped nearly 3 percent per year among men, from 87 to 78 cases per 100,000 men, and declined 1.1 percent per year among women, from 57 to 54 cases per 100,000 women, the study found.
The largest drop, according to the research, occurred among adults between ages 35 and 44 -- a 6.5 percent annual decrease among men and 5.8 percent for women.
"It is so exciting to see the lung cancer rate dropping," said Patricia Folan, a registered nurse and director of the Center for Tobacco Control at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in Manhasset.
"It has been slow progress," Folan said, noting that while only a few years are covered in the research the data may be a harbinger of brighter days.
Folan said only 16 percent of New York's population smokes, and that percentage ranks the state among those with the fewest smokers.
She said several factors are responsible for New York's ranking: Tobacco control programs, such as the one at North Shore, which are helping people quit by focusing on medication and counseling; the state's high excise tax on a pack of cigarettes -- $4.35 -- the highest in the nation, which she thinks serves as a deterrent; and the growing number of smoke-free policies involving public spaces.
Folan said that while the scientific research published Friday in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report is welcome news, substantial obstacles involving cigarette smoking remain.
Nationally, she said, half of all cigarettes are sold to people with mental health problems, and lung cancer is more prevalent among the mentally ill.
Still, Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director, said declining rates of lung cancer confirm that tobacco prevention and control programs are working. "While it is encouraging that lung cancer incidence rates are dropping, one preventable cancer is one too many," Frieden said.
But as some experts praised the notable decline in new lung cancer cases Thursday, others pointed to unsolved concerns.
Some people develop lung cancer and have never smoked. Equally worrisome, the death rate from lung cancer has not gone down.
"We look at the death rate and that's what is so disturbing to us. We still have too many deaths," said Laurie Fenton Ambrose, president of the Lung Cancer Alliance, a leading patient advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.
An estimated 250,000 people are diagnosed annually with the cancer. In 2013, 87,000 men and 72,000 women died of lung cancer, Ambrose said.