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North Dakota ranks 1st in nation for people receiving treatment after lung cancer diagnosis

In 2018, the latest year in which data is available, North Dakota reported 516 lung and bronchus cancer cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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BISMARCK — North Dakota had the highest rate in the U.S. for people receiving lung cancer treatment, such as surgery or targeted medication, after their initial diagnosis, according to a new American Lung Association report.

The American Lung Association compared data among states from 2014 to 2018 for markers such as lung cancer screening, surgical treatment and lack of treatment. The report found North Dakota had the lowest "lack of treatment" rate, referring to the number of people who forgo cancer treatment after their diagnosis.

People may not receive medical interventions after a lung cancer diagnosis for a variety of reasons, like the cost of treatment or a lack of patient or provider knowledge, according to the American Lung Association's 2021 State of Lung Cancer report.

"We always want to remember that these are people ... and that there are reasons that these disparities happen," said Pat McKone, senior director of public policy and advocacy for the American Lung Association.

McKone said North Dakota likely ranked No. 1 nationwide for the number of people getting treatment for lung cancer once diagnosed because of access to health care.

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The report also found that North Dakota ranked fifth in the nation for cancer screenings. The American Lung Association says screenings can reduce lung cancer patients' mortality rate by up to 20% by detecting tumors in their early stages. North Dakota's Indigenous population has higher rates of lung cancer compared to the state's non-Native population, according to the report.

In 2018, the latest year in which data is available, North Dakota reported 516 lung and bronchus cancer cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 220,000 new cases were reported nationwide in 2018.

Tobacco use is the leading risk factor for lung cancer and causes 80% to 90% of all lung cancer cases, according to the American Lung Association. Secondhand smoke, exposure to radon and pollution are also major contributors to lung cancer.

McKone said North Dakota can do more to prevent lung cancer, and a significant way to do that would be to raise the tax on cigarettes. She said other state legislatures implemented higher taxes and saw a "significant decrease" in the number of smokers.

"At any given time, a person is wanting to desperately to quit smoking, and (tax increases) gives them one more reason and could be a tipping point," McKone said. "That's the absolute best thing North Dakota could do."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at mgriffith@forumcomm.com.

Michelle (she/her, English speaker) is a Bismarck-based journalist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered topics and communities.
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