Ask the Expert: Clearing the Air
Watch Dr. William Hicks discuss and debunk common lung cancer myths and misperceptions.
Dr. Hicks: Most cases of lung cancer are in older people and current smokers. But, the fact of the matter is that lung cancer can strike at any age, and even occurs in people with absolutely no history of tobacco use or exposure. I try not to focus on why my patient has lung cancer. The statistics show that the vast majority of lung cancer is caused by smoking. Lung cancer can also be caused by exposure to radon in homes or exposure to very toxic chemicals at work. For a smaller number of people, we really don't know what the cause of their lung cancer is.
Fortunately, there is much we can do to treat lung cancer. More than 350,000 people are alive today, who at some point have been diagnosed with lung cancer. And we are making progress with earlier diagnosis and better treatments.
When my patients are first diagnosed, I discuss their particular type of cancer with them and recommend treatments, based on where the cancer is and how far it has spread.
I tell my patients that the real importance of staging information is how I use it. When I'm considering the best treatment option for them. For early-stage disease, the goal is often cure. For later-stage disease, the goal is to have the patient be cancer free, with a good quality of life, for as long as possible. And I really go to great lengths to explain to my patients and to their families that, that is not true. As a matter of fact, with imagining we now know whether or not someone is a good candidate for surgery. Or if we should use other therapies.
If you have lung cancer, smoking can cause more and more changes. Cancer driven mutation in the cancer cells. The more mutations that occur, the worse the cancer gets, and the harder it is to treat. So, if you have lung cancer and you continue to smoke the more likely your cancer will get worse. And the less likely your treatments will work. That's why it's incredibly important to quit smoking.
There are some real concerns that people have regarding clinical trials. Patients wonder if a clinical trial will benefit them or just benefit the investigator. They sometimes have the misperception that if they enroll a clinical trial, they're just being a guinea pig. It's important however for patients to know that if they do participate in clinical trials, depending on the phase, they may receive the standard of care. They also may receive a new treatment that's just right for their type of cancer but, not yet available for other positions to prescribe.
Patients sometimes believe the myth, well I brought this on myself so I deserve it. Nobody deserves cancer. And the causes of cancer are complicated. And we have to be very careful ourselves that we do it perpetuate the myths surrounding that stigma and blame.
Eating well, staying as healthy as possible, will help with treatment. And give patients their highest quality of life. Even patients with advanced disease. You know, asking questions may be more helpful than you can possibly think. When you gain knowledge, you feel some control over the situation you're in.
Approved by Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed November 24, 2017.
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