Despite being the leading cancer killer in the U.S., lung cancer isn't always on everyone's radar. Learning more about lung cancer can help you better understand the disease, its risk factors and treatment. To help spread the word on World Cancer Day, we asked Dr. Jorge Gomez, a medical oncologist who specializes in the treatment of patients with lung cancer and member of the American Lung Association's Lung Cancer Expert Medical Advisory Panel, what everyone should know about the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer.
Q: How common is lung cancer? Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in the U.S., with approximately 220,000 new patients every year. Lung cancer affects smokers, former smokers and even those who have never smoked. It is more common in smokers, but 10 to 15 percent of patients have smoked very little, or have never smoked. Other known risk factors of lung cancer include radon gas, air pollution and genetics. The sad truth is that five years after diagnosis, only one to eight percent of patients survive. More patients die of lung cancer in the U.S. than of breast, prostate and colon cancers combined.
Q: Why are survival rates so low, and what can be done about it? Five-year survival rates for lung cancer are extremely low for several reasons. The first is that approximately 57 percent of lung cancer patients are diagnosed at an advanced, incurable stage. These patients live an average of eight to 15 months. In addition, lung cancer cells are not as sensitive to available chemotherapy drugs as some other cancers. CT screening for those at high risk for lung cancer has shown to decrease the likelihood of dying from lung cancer by about 20 percent due to finding the cancer at earlier stages. (Learn more about who should be screened for lung cancer.) In addition to CT screening, the development of new drugs can improve the survival rates of lung cancer.
Q: Are there promising treatment options for lung cancer? Researchers are studying multiple new drugs in lung cancer. Targeted therapies are significantly more effective in improving survival rates for patients who have specific targets on their tumors, found by genomic testing. Immunotherapies are also available to help enhance the ability of the patient's immune system to attack cancers and improve survival rates.
Q: What actions would you recommend for those newly diagnosed with lung cancer? In patients with newly diagnosed lung cancers, it is important to seek treatment at an institution with care from a multidisciplinary team that includes surgeons, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, pulmonologists and palliative care physicians.
Patients should also test their tumor specimens to identify treatments that are more effective. Genomic testing can recognize patients who will derive a significant benefit from targeted therapies. Testing for PD-L1 can help determine which patients would benefit from immunotherapy.
Q: What resources are available for those with lung cancer? Many health institutions offer resources for lung cancer patients, such as support groups and educational programs. The American lung Association and its LUNG FORCE initiative provide information for patients, caregivers and physicians, and work to increase awareness regarding lung cancer. The American Lung Association has a wealth of trusted and relevant information on Lung.org/lung-cancer for patients, caregivers, loved ones and anyone interested in finding out more about their risk for lung cancer.
For more information about lung cancer, treatment options, how to get involved and more, visit Lung.org/lung-cancer.