Celebrating Progress, While Keeping a Focus on the Future
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, designated to bring attention to the needs of all those affected by an often invisible disease. In our lifetime, one in 14 of us will be diagnosed with this disease. In fact, over the course of the next year, approximately 225,000 people will be diagnosed with lung cancer. Extrapolating the impact to include families, friends, co-workers and communities means that millions of people will be affected by the disease. Notably, approximately 55% of all newly-diagnosed lung cancer patients are among people who have never smoked or are former smokers.
Because lung cancer is typically asymptomatic, it is usually found at a later stage and is incurable. As a result, the five-year survival rate is only 16%. In fact, lung cancer will take more lives this year than breast, prostate, colon and pancreatic cancers combined.
The good news is that the five-year survival rate increases to 52% if the lung cancer is caught before it spreads. That is a vast improvement, although still low compared with the five-year survival rate of 98% achieved for those diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. Clearly, there are additional needs in learning how to treat lung cancer at all stages.
Slowly, but surely, progress is being made on both the detection and treatment fronts, at least for some patients. The National Cancer Institute’s National Lung Screening Trial proved last year that there IS a benefit in diagnosing the disease earlier. A few newer targeted drugs, like Tarceva and Xalkori, have improved quality of life and time to progression. These are excellent beginnings, and work is urgently underway to build on those foundations. Importantly, from an awareness perspective, investing in research for earlier detection and better treatments has a chicken and an egg effect, creating more survivors empowered to advocate for more research and better support services.
What can YOU do?
- Join one of the many grassroots events around the country to raise awareness and funds for lung cancer research
- If you do still smoke, stop
- Have your home tested for radon
- If you choose to have CT screening, have it done at a medical center with special expertise in lung cancer screening and treatment
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with lung cancer, know that there are support services and groups that can help you navigate the choices you are facing.