Every year in November, we celebrate lung cancer awareness month. We remember thousands who have died, and continue to suffer from this kind of cancer. A lot of progress has been made, yet most things remain the same. Here are a few things to know:
It is unfortunately still very deadly yet preventable. On average, only about 17.7% of people diagnosed with this will survive for 5 years from US data (compare this to 89.7% for breast cancer) and click here if you’d like more statistics.. This is likely not better in other parts of the world. Smoking is still the biggest risk factor but non-smokers can also develop lung cancer. Since smoking is the biggest risk factor, most cases of lung cancer can be prevented. It is important to stop smoking if already doing so, and to ask for help if needed. Second hand tobacco exposure (from people around) is just as bad. Other risk factors include asbestos and radon exposure.
Screening for lung cancer is helpful for people at very high risk. Low dose CT scans (LDCT) can be used to screen for cancer in heavy smokers. Smoking is measured in pack-years. For example, 2 packs per day for 10 years, give 2 x 10 = 20 pack year history of smoking. LDCT is most beneficial for heavy smokers of more than 30 pack years, over the age of 55. Such scans are usually done every year.
If you have been diagnosed with lung cancer, there are new treatments available. The biggest news here is immunotherapy. These are medications that ramp up the immune system to help fight the cancer, and are used for stage IV lung cancer. Some examples include pembrolizumab (or Keytruda ®) and nivolumab (or Opdivo®). There are pills available for some kinds of stage IV lung cancer such as erlotinib (or Tarceva®) and crizotinib (or Xalkori®). These new treatments are often better tolerated than some older IV chemotherapy drugs, but can also have their own side effects.
Other things are the same. There are still 2 main types – non-small cell, and small cell lung cancer. Early stage lung cancer may be treated with surgery or radiation alone, with chance for cure. Stage II to III lung cancer treatment may include some combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Stage IV lung cancer is incurable by definition. Treatments (mostly chemotherapy) may serve to prolong life and maintain quality of life by preventing and/or treating symptoms.Because we have much room for improvement, it is important to consider enrolling in a clinical trial if diagnosed with lung cancer.
Please get in touch and let me know of your experience. If you found this helpful, please share freely with your friends.