Thank you AstraZeneca for sponsoring this post. November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Now more than ever, there is reason for hope. Please visit LIVE W.E.L.L. and LVNG With Lung Cancer for more information.
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month and I want to raise awareness to help those who are diagnosed with the disease. I ask that you join me by sharing this content and information with loved ones. Please use the sharing buttons at the top of this post to share the content on your social channels and help spread the word.
Why Lung Cancer Awareness Month Is Important To Me
In 1985, my grandmother passed away from lung cancer. She was a huge part of my life. My grandparents lived ten minutes away and I saw my grandma and spoke to her every day. Thirty-three years later, I haven’t forgotten anything about her. I can still hear her voice singing me to sleep with my favorite nursery rhymes. And I can still remember the floral print on the quilt that she laid in bed with when she became too weak to get around anymore as her cancer advanced. She underwent chemoradiation and part of her affected lung was removed. While she underwent treatment and was diagnosed during Stage 3, she didn’t survive. By the way, she never smoked a cigarette in her entire life!
Today, there is more hope for men and women diagnosed with lung cancer. With the advancement of treatment options, it is critical for patients not to give up – to be aware of their options and talk to their doctor about what treatments may be appropriate for them.
The Alarming Statistics
In 2018, an estimated 234,000 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer – that is three and a half times the number of seats in a typical professional football stadium. In the United States, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, accounting for approximately 154,000 deaths each year and about one-quarter of all cancer deaths – more than breast, prostate and colorectal cancers combined. While many people are screened annually for cancers that we all fear, this isn’t one we are screened for and it’s important to raise awareness.
Types of Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is not just one disease; about 80 to 85 percent have non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and about 10 to 15 percent of patients have small cell lung cancer, and each category has many different subtypes within it. Because there are different types of lung cancer, when someone is diagnosed, it’s important to understand the specific characteristics of the disease, so they can find out which types of treatment are most appropriate for them. This is the crux of “personalized medicine” – ensuring each patient is treated according to the specific characteristics of their unique diagnosis.
Stages of Lung Cancer & Fighting The Disease
Lung cancer stage is determined by tumor size and whether it has spread to nearby areas, lymph nodes, or other organs. Some of these stages have unique names, which can sometimes make understanding the types of lung cancer confusing.
There are four main “stages” of NSCLC, defined primarily by the size of the tumor and how far the cancer has spread within or outside of the lungs. There are a lot of misperceptions about lung cancer, particularly in grouping Stage 3 cancer with Stage 4 cancer.
Stage 4 NSCLC is called “metastatic” and occurs when the disease has spread to distant parts of the chest or to other organs, such as the brain, bones or liver.
Stage 3 is different—it is an earlier stage of disease with better long-term survival rates. Typically, the earlier we treat disease, the better outcomes we have.
Historically, the standard treatment path for unresectable Stage 3 NSCLC was concurrent chemoradiation therapy. After approximately 6 weeks, the treatment would typically stop, and the cancer would be monitored to see if it would spread to other organs. Although most patients initially benefit from chemoradiation therapy, up to 9 out of 10 patients would ultimately progress to Stage 4 – meaning the cancer would spread.
In recent years, researchers have come to understand important details of how lung cancer grows and spreads. This has led to important new treatment options that treat cancer differently from conventional therapies, like chemotherapy and radiation. Two important types of therapy are targeted medicines and immunotherapies. In later stages of lung cancer, particularly stages 3 and 4 NSCLC, these types of medicines are changing the way cancer is treated. When my grandmother suffered from the disease, these treatment options were not yet known.
Lung cancers have certain “biomarkers,” which are unique traits of each individual lung cancer that can help patients and their doctors understand its specific characteristics and can play a role in determining what types of medicines the cancer is most likely to respond to. Biomarkers can be identified through “biomarker testing” to inform treatment approaches for each patient. This is often considered a form of “personalized medicine,” which includes treatments specially designed for certain tumor characteristics. Personalized medicines include targeted treatments for lung cancer with certain biomarkers, such as the epidermal growth factor (EGFR) mutation. EGFR is a protein found on the surface of some cells to which epidermal growth factor binds, causing the cells to divide. It is a common mutation of NSCLC, for which targeted medicines are available.
In the fight against disease, the immune system is the body’s greatest ally. However, cancer is smart and can take on a disguise. Proteins such as “PD-L1” can cloak cancer cells, preventing the immune system from recognizing them and making it nearly impossible for the body to attack the harmful cells. Unlike traditional types of therapy, such as chemotherapy, which seek to attack the cancer directly, immunotherapies – also called Immuno-Oncology (IO) medicines – empower the body’s own immune system to find and attack cancer. By blocking or inhibiting proteins such as PD-L1, we are able to make the cancer cells more recognizable to the immune system, thereby activating it to find and attack cancer cells. For some lung cancer patients, immunotherapy may be an option following conventional therapies, to keep the cancer at bay for longer and, in some cases, showing positive signs for improved overall survival.
Where To Find More Information About Lung Cancer Treatment
These are all important things for patients to be aware of so they can question their medical teams and be informed of all options. There are many factors that come into play when making the difficult decision about treatment for lung cancer. There is more hope today than there was in the past.
During Lung Cancer Awareness Month this November, please help me spread the word. If you know anyone who has been diagnosed with lung cancer, make sure they know where to find more information. Not everyone is aware of the medical advances and treatment options proven to benefit patients with specific types of lung cancer. Many of you reading this have a platform and a voice.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.