This page will look at lung cancer as an injury in tort lawsuits such as medical malpractice and product liability cases. We will look at the characteristics, treatment options and prognosis of lung cancer and what the potential settlement value of this disease is in personal injury cases.
Lung Cancer Overview and Statistics
Lung cancer is cancer that originates in the tissue of the lungs. Lung cancer is one of the most common of all types of cancer. Over 200,000 new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed every year in the U.S., with a roughly equal split between men and women. This ranks lung cancer in the top 5 most common cancers.
Lung cancer is primarily diagnosed in older patients. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 70 and it rarely occurs in people under age 45. Lung cancer causes more deaths each year than any other type of cancer. In 2023, an estimated 127,000 people in the U.S. will die of lung cancer. That is more than the number of deaths caused by colon, prostate, and breast cancer combined.
In the U.S., lung cancer occurs in about 1 in 16 people, with the rates slightly higher for men compared to women. That risk rate includes both smokers and non-smokers. Individuals with a history of smoking have significantly higher risk rates for lung cancer.
Survival Rate for Lung Cancer
Lung cancer comes in 2 different types: small-cell lung cancer and non-small-cell lung cancer. The 5-year survival rate for non-small cell lung cancer (all stages) is 23%. For small-cell cancer, the overall 5-year survival rate is even lower at 7%. This makes lung cancer one of the more dangerous types of cancer.
About the Lungs
The lungs are the organs that extract oxygen from the air we breathe and circulate that oxygen inside the body. The right lung has 3 sections or “lobes.” The left lung only has 2 lobes or sections. The left lung is smaller in size to allow room for the heart and on that side of the body.
We air is inhaled through the mouth and nose it travels through the trachea (also called the “windpipe”) and then into the lungs. The windpipe separates into 2 separate tubes called bronchi, which feed into the left and right lungs where they subdivide into smaller tubes, they divide again into even smaller branches called bronchioles. At the end of the bronchioles are tiny air sacs known as alveoli. The alveoli convert vital oxygen from inhaled air and circulate it into your bloodstream. They also remove carbon dioxide from the blood during exhale.
2 Types of Lung Cancer
Lung cancer comes in 2 different types or classifications: (1) Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC); and (2) Small cell lung cancer (SCLC). Within each of these 2 types, there are also different subtypes.
Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)
Non-small cell or NSCLC is the more common of the 2 different types of lung cancer. NSCLC accounts for around 85% of all diagnosed cases of lung cancer in the U.S. There are 3 recognized subtypes of NSCLC: (1) adenocarcinoma, (2) squamous cell carcinoma, and (3) large cell carcinoma. Each of these 3 subtypes is distinctly different because they originate in different cells in the lungs. They are classified together, however, because they all have very similar pathologies and similar treatment and prognosis.
Adenocarcinoma: This subtype originates in the cells that produce mucus and other fluids. This is one of the more common types of lung cancer. It tends to happen in the outer areas of the lung, which makes it easier to spot. That is one of the reasons why this subtype of NSCLC is usually diagnosed at an earlier stage.
Squamous cell carcinoma: This subtype of NSCLC originates in what are called the squamous cells. These are flat cells found on the inside lining of the air pathways in the lungs. This subtype of NSCLC usually occurs in the central part of the lungs, near one of the primary airways (bronchus). Squamous cell lung cancer is the type of cancer that has a strong association with smoking.
Large cell (undifferentiated) carcinoma: This subtype originates in all parts and areas of the lungs. It is one of the more aggressive NSCLC subtypes because it spreads very quickly, making it more difficult to effectively treat. One particular variation of this subtype, known as large-cell neuroendocrine carcinoma (LCNEC), is very similar to small-cell lung cancer in its rate of growth.
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC)
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC), sometimes referred to as “oat cell cancer,” is the less common form of lung cancer. It accounts for around 15% of all lung cancer cases in the U.S. SCLC is very aggressive and much more dangerous than NSCLC, which is why is has a much lower survival rate.
Small cell lung cancer grows and spreads much faster than NSCLC. In most people with SCLC, the cancer has already spread beyond the lungs at the time it is diagnosed. Since this cancer grows quickly, it tends to respond well to chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Unfortunately, for most people, the cancer will return at some point.
Lung Cancer in Lawsuits
Lung cancer is the primary injury in two different types of personal injury lawsuits: (1) medical malpractice, and (2) product liability.
Lung Cancer Medical Malpractice Cases
When lung cancer is the primary injury in a medical malpractice lawsuit it is almost always a case involving a negligent failure to diagnose. Failure to diagnose cancer is a common negligence claim in medical malpractice cases. Lung cancer is one of the more common cancer types involved in misdiagnosis or delay in diagnosis malpractice cases. Lung cancer misdiagnosis cases usually fall into 2 types: (1) negligence by the radiologist in failing to properly interpret lung or chest scans; or (2) negligence by a primary care or other doctor for failing to read radiology reports or failing to follow-up clinically on signs of cancer.
Lung Cancer in Product Liability Cases
Lung cancer has been scientifically linked to various substances, chemicals and environmental toxins. The most notable is obviously cigarettes. As a result, lung cancer is frequently a primary injury alleged in many product liability and mass tort cases. Below are a few of the currently product liability and/or mass tort cases in which lung cancer is a primary injury.
Asbestos Lung Cancer Cases: Asbestos is a notorious carcinogen. Although asbestos exposure is primarily linked to a rare type of cancer called mesothelioma, occupational exposure to asbestos has also been shown to increase the rate of lung cancer.
Camp Lejeune Lung Cancer Cases: Lung cancer is one of the diseases that has been linked to exposure to the toxic water supply at the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base between 1953 and 1987. Lung cancer is not one of the top tier injuries in the Camp Lejeune litigation, but it is on the list of potentially related injuries.
Settlement Value of Lung Cancer in Tort Cases
When lung cancer is the primary injury in a tort case, it will typically have a fairly high settlement value. This is primarily because lung cancer has a low survival rate and tends to be a difficult and debilitating type of cancer. That being said, in certain cases, the settlement value of lung cancer as an injury will be reduced by other factors. For example, if the plaintiff was a smoker that will often bring down the settlement value of lung cancer in tort cases. Below are verdicts and settlements in tort cases in which lung cancer was the primary injury.
$5,875,000 Verdict (Massachusetts 2023): a 47-year-old male with a thirty-year smoking history, presented to the emergency room and came under the care of the defendant who ordered a lung CT scan among other testing. The defendant allegedly failed to inform the decedent that the lung scan identified signs of cancer, resulting in a 14 month delay in diagnosis of his lung cancer, which had metastasized to his liver by the time he was diagnosed and he died.
$2,500,000 Verdict (Florida 2023): The plaintiff worked for 8 years as a trackman for the defendant railroad company. The plaintiff reportedly was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 72, allegedly due to his exposure to diesel exhaust and other toxic substances and carcinogens during the course and scope of his employment with the defendant. He alleged that the defendant knew of should have known of the dangerous working environment.
$175,000 Settlement (Pennsylvania 2022): 81-year-old woman died from lung cancer. A year earlier she underwent a PET scan which identified the cancer, but the radiologist allegedly mixed up the scans with those of another patient and the decedent was never told. Her estate filed suit for negligent failure to diagnose. The low settlement value here was probably due to the fact the decedent was older and her cancer may have been deadly even if diagnosed on time.
$2,000,000 Settlement (Pennsylvania 2022): 65-year-old patient underwent a chest X-ray and the radiologist allegedly failed to properly interpret the x-ray as showing abnormalities indicating possible lung cancer. This led to 2-year delay in diagnosis of the lung cancer.
Contact Us About Lung Cancer Injury Cases
If you have a potential lawsuit involving lung cancer, contact us at 800-553-8082 or contact us online.