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Hawaiʻi ranks last for early diagnosis of lung cancer, Native Hawaiians more likely to be diagnosed

Kalhh via Pixabay
Kalhh via Pixabay

Hawaiʻi ranks last in the nation for the early diagnosis of lung cancer, according to a new study from the American Lung Association.

The association's annual "State of Lung Cancer" report says nationwide, 24.5% of cases are diagnosed at an early stage — when the five-year survival rate is much higher.

In Hawaiʻi, only 19% of the cases are diagnosed during an early stage — defined as stage one or two of cancer. The most advanced form is stage four, when cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Just 2.8% of high-risk smokers in Hawaiʻi undergo annual CT scans that capture detailed pictures of the lungs, compared to 5.7% nationally, the study said.

The study found that Native Hawaiians are more likely to be diagnosed and die of lung cancer than other ethnic groups.

"Smoking rates among Native Hawaiians tend to be higher than other groups, and that I’m sure accounts for some of it, but there is research that’s being conducted to look at whether there is predisposition within Native Hawaiians for lung cancer," said Pedro Haro, executive director of the American Lung Association in Hawaiʻi.

"That was conducted by late great Dr. Elizabeth Tan, who herself was Native Hawaiian. Unfortunately, there isn’t definitive information on that. All we can do is ask people to please quit smoking if they are currently smoking, and talk to their health care providers about an early lung cancer screening," he said.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that smokers and former smokers who are at high risk of developing lung cancer undergo CT scans. The high-risk category includes adults between the ages of 50 and 80, those who have smoked a pack a day or more for the last 20 years, and former heavy smokers who quit in the past 15 years.

Hawaiʻi 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.

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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