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.
Dealing with lung cancer is a daily part of my job as a MRI Technologist. Some patients have just found out they have lung cancer, some have been diagnosed for awhile and are doing great, some have metastatic cancer and only have months to live. It took me a while to figure out what these patients needed from me. I can always do the technical part of my job, but the emotional part is the hardest. Some patients don’t want to talk about it. Some want to tell you the whole story with all their treatments. I found the best thing to do is say “I’m so sorry to hear that.” From there, I can tell what to say next.
Recently, a close friend of mine was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. She thought she had a broken rib. It is so far advanced, she is at a major hospital in Boston because the mass was pushing on her heart. She has an amazingly positive outlook and after talking to her, you know she has HOPE! She has been educated about her treatment options and is in close contact with her oncologists. She knows that with all the advances in lung cancer treatment, her prognosis is good.
Did you know?
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- About 1 out of every 4 people diagnosed with NSCLC – more than 43,000 cases each year in the US – are diagnosed with Stage 3. And most people who are diagnosed with Stage 3 NSCLC have tumors that are determined to be “unresectable,” meaning they cannot be removed surgically.
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.
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.
Immunotherapy: 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.
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month!
This month, please help me spread the world about Lung Cancer. If you know someone that has been diagnosed with lung cancer (or if you have been diagnosed with lung cancer), it’s so important that they understand their diagnosis and become their own best advocate. There are treatment options that are right for them and their medical team can help them pick those options.
There is hope! Now, with all the scientific advancements and treatments, patients do not have to give up!
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of CLEVER and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.