The number of patients receiving treatment for lung cancer exceeded 110,000 last year, with 116,428 individuals seeking treatment at hospitals, according to a report released by the National Health Insurance Corporation on Monday. This marks a 27.7% increase over the course of four years, compared to 91,192 patients in 2018.
Lung cancer, like many other cancers, is a disease that becomes more prevalent as individuals age. This is primarily because prolonged exposure to carcinogenic factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and poor dietary habits increases the risk of developing the disease. Last year, 84% of lung cancer patients were aged 60 or older. Among them, patients in their 70s constituted the largest group, accounting for 34% of the total. Therefore, experts attribute the recent rise in lung cancer cases to the aging population trend.
Traditionally, lung cancer has been more prevalent among men due to their relatively higher smoking rates. Last year, there were 70,564 male lung cancer patients, which was approximately 25,000 more than female patients (45,864). However, there is cause for concern as the increase in the number of female lung cancer patients over the past four years has been 36.5%, which is higher than the increase rate among male patients (22.5%). Analysis suggests that this trend may be influenced by the fact that while the male smoking rate has been gradually decreasing, the female smoking rate has remained stagnant at 6~7%.
As lung cancer patients continue to rise, the expenses associated with their medical treatment are also increasing. In the year 2022, the total medical costs covered by national health insurance for lung cancer patients reached 1.2799 trillion won. This represents a significant increase of 39.9% compared to the 915 billion won spent on lung cancer treatment in 2018. On average, the cost of treating a single lung cancer patient in 2022 amounted to 10.99 million won.
Professor Lee Sang-cheol, who specializes in respiratory allergy at the National Health Insurance Service Ilsan Hospital, emphasized that approximately 80% of lung cancer-related deaths are attributed to smoking. “The risk of developing lung cancer is directly proportional to the quantity and duration of smoking over one's lifetime,” Professor Lee said. “Therefore, quitting smoking as early as possible is paramount in reducing the risk of lung cancer.”