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"This is a time of great optimism because innovations, including the ability to screen for the disease, minimally invasive surgery, targeted radiation therapy and new systemic therapies, are transforming all aspects of lung cancer care."

Canadian Cancer Statistics, 2023. Canadian Cancer Society


Why we're optimistic

Thanks in part to smoking rates at an all-time low and the development of new treatments, technologies and medicines, the incidence and mortality rates for lung cancer are actually decreasing faster than any other type of cancer in Canada. 


How many Canadians are affected by lung cancer anyway?

  • About 1 in 4 cancer deaths among Canadians is due to lung cancer, making it the leading cause of cancer death in this country.
  • In 2023, just over 31,000 Canadians are expected to be diagnosed with lung cancer and it will kill more than 20,00 Canadians.
  • Each year, more males are diagnosed with prostate cancer than lung cancer, and more females are diagnosed with breast cancer. Yet lung cancer kills more than Canadians than prostate and breast cancers combined.
  • The lifetime probability of developing lung cancer is 7.1%.
  • Lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in 70 to 84-year-olds and the second-most commonly diagnosed in those 85 years old or older
  • 98% of lung cancer diagnoses are expected to occur in people 50 years of age or older.

Source: Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Cancer Statistics 2023


The facts behind the numbers

The reason lung cancer has historically killed more Canadians than any other type of cancer isn’t as simple as you think, and ​​​these statistics on their own don’t tell the whole story. There are systemic and individual factors unique to lung cancer that are beginning to be addressed, and must continue to be addressed, to help reduce the impact of lung cancer in Canada even further.


1. Stigma is a barrier to diagnosis and care

Too many lung cancer diagnoses in Canada are still made when the cancer is advanced and treatment options are more limited. Research has shown that the stigma associated with a lung cancer diagnosis can be a barrier for individuals seeking medical treatment.

Raising awareness of the connection between tobacco smoking and lung cancer has certainly helped to reduce the number of Canadians who smoke tobacco, but it may have given the impression that those who smoke are to blame for their lung cancer.

Many studies have shown that feelings of self blame and shame and being judged by healthcare providers are common among those diagnosed with lung cancer. 


2. Lung cancer doesn't affect all populations equally

Lung cancer doesn't affect all populations equally. This lack of equity is another factor that influences the incidence and mortality rates of lung cancer in Canada. Where you live and your income can affect the incidence, survival rate, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer. According to the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer:

  • People are more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer if they have lower income or live in rural or remote areas. 
  • People with lower income are less likely to survive lung cancer.
  • People are more likely to smoke if they have lower income or live in rural or remote areas.
  • People with lung cancer who have lower income are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced (Stage III or IV) disease.
  • People diagnosed with Stage I or II non-small cell lung cancer, and who have lower income, are less likely to receive curative surgery.


3. Lung screening lags behind provincial screening for other common types of cancer

Provincial lung screening programs are relatively new in Canada. The first-in-Canada provincial lung screening program launched in BC in 2022. Only Ontario, Alberta, Quebec and Nova Scotia (as of 2024) also offer such programs (two of which are pilot programs).

In comparison, screening programs for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers have been making earlier diagnosis possible for much longer. Breast cancer screening in particular has been in place in all provinces since the end of the 1990s.

We need more screening programs in more provinces, more locations for screening and greater awareness among those eligible for screening. 


4. More research investment is needed

Cancer research has allowed for tremendous advances in diagnosis and treatment, yet lung cancer research is relatively underfunded, especially when comparing it to investments in other types of cancer research.

Lung cancer is responsible for 24.4% of cancer deaths in females and 23.2% in males, yet between 2005 and 2020, only 6.6% of research funding awarded in Canada was directed to lung cancer research. It is also interesting to note that as most cases of lung cancer are due to preventable risk factors, the percentage of clinical trials focused on prevention and risk reduction (38.6%) versus treatment is higher than for other types of cancer.


This section was made possible by an unrestricted educational grant from Merck Canada, Sanofi Canada and Astra Zeneca Canada.


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