Lung cancer is cancer that starts in the lungs. There are two main types of lung cancer: non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), which makes up 80 to 85 percent of lung cancers; and small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Each of these types of lung cancer has several subtypes.

According to the American Cancer Society, most people diagnosed with lung cancer are 65 years old and older, with the average age at diagnosis being 70. Only a small number of people are diagnosed at the age of 45 or younger.

Although lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women, the number of new lung cancer diagnoses is decreasing. This is partly because more people are quitting smoking.

Statistics can give us an idea of overall rates, but it’s important to remember that people are not statistics. These are just guidelines and aren’t necessarily applicable to everyone.

Although survival statistics are mainly based on the stage of the cancer at diagnosis, there have been studies done looking at age and survival.

Median survival rates

When looking at age and survival, one study found that the median survival time of elderly patients, which were considered people over the age of 60 in this study, was significantly lower compared to that of younger patients (37.8 weeks versus 57 weeks, respectively).

Age was found to be one of the main prognostic factors in survival in those with lung cancer.

Rate of diagnosis by age group

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put together rates of diagnosis of new lung cancers by age group.

The case counts per 100,000 people are as follows:

AgeCase counts per 100,000 people
15 to 190.1
20 to 240.3
25 to 290.5
30 to 341.0
35 to 392.5
40 to 445.5
45 to 4914.2
50 to 5433.2
55 to 5979.9
60 to 64140.5
65 to 69198.4
70 to 74262.8
75 to 79334.7
80 to 84332.6

The largest group with new lung cancer diagnoses was the 75 to 79 age group, followed by the 80 to 84 age group.

Stats around risk factors

Overall, the chance of developing lung cancer in your lifetime is 1 in 15 for men and 1 in 17 for women. This includes both smokers and nonsmokers.

The risk is higher for smokers and lower for nonsmokers. Nonsmokers do have a 20 to 30 percent greater chance of developing lung cancer if they are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work.

There are also differences in race and diagnosis.

  • Black men are about 15 percent more likely to develop lung cancer than white men.
  • The rate of lung cancer in Black women is about 14 percent lower than in white women.
  • Although Black men are more likely to develop lung cancer than white men, Black men are less likely to develop SCLC than white men.

A note about race and statistics

It’s important to note that various risk factors and other demographic factors, such as racial injustices and inequities in healthcare, can interact with one’s risk of developing lung cancer and impact the age at diagnosis. This is not always captured by statistics.

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A variety of things can affect diagnosis, especially risk factors for lung cancer. If someone has multiple risk factors for lung cancer, their risk of developing lung cancer may be higher than that of someone who has no risk factors.

If someone has symptoms but doesn’t go to the doctor until they get much worse, they may be diagnosed at a later stage, making treatment more difficult.

Risk factors for lung cancer can include:

  • cigarette smoking
    • this is the biggest risk factor and linked to 80 to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths
  • exposure to secondhand smoke
  • radon exposure
  • exposure to asbestos, arsenic, and diesel exhaust
  • radiation therapy to the chest
  • personal or family history of lung cancer
  • advancing age

The majority of lung cancers do not produce symptoms until they have spread, although some people with early lung cancer may have symptoms. Knowing the possible symptoms of lung cancer can help you be aware of them. Treatment is most effective with early diagnosis.

Common early symptoms of lung cancer can include:

  • lingering or worsening cough
  • coughing up mucous or blood
  • chest pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply, laugh, or cough
  • hoarseness
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • weakness and fatigue
  • appetite loss and weight loss
  • frequent respiratory infections

As the cancer spreads, other symptoms can develop based on where the cancer has spread.

Talk with a health professional about your risk factors for lung cancer if you are worried. Knowing your risk factors as well as the symptoms can help you recognize potential issues earlier.

If you have unexplained symptoms, new symptoms, or symptoms that do not go away, see a medical professional.

Although lung cancer is primarily a disease affecting people over the age of 60, it does get diagnosed in younger people as well. Various factors can affect the risk of developing lung cancer and interact with age. It is important to know the risk factors and signs and symptoms so you can see a doctor as soon as possible if need be.

If you have concerns about your risk for lung cancer, talk with a health professional. They can go over your medical history and your personal risk factors and talk with you about your health behaviors and ways to help lower your risk.