Progress in Lung Cancer

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

MAY 03, 2018

  Any cancer diagnosis is scary, and lung cancer can be one of the scarier ones. Each year, more Americans die of lung cancer than of breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined. Although primarily a disease of older people, the average age at diagnosis is about 70, it can happen to younger people, too. There has been an increase in the numbers of women who are never smokers and are being diagnosed, and that is especially distressing.

  Lung cancer patients sometimes face a reaction that the rest of us don't. Too many (ill-informed) people believe that only smokers can develop lung cancer, so it is an easy Blame the victim situation. Almost all of my patients with this diagnosis have told me that, when they share the news, many people immediately ask: Did you smoke? One delightful woman had the world's best response to that one. When asked that question, she said: Only after sex, Her truth was that she actually never smoked, but this was a better answer. Even people who have been or are smokers should never be blamed for their diagnosis. None of us have perfect behaviors, and it is all too easy to retreat behind blame. What I mean is that it often seems that people who have not had cancer are actively looking for ways to differentiate themselves from us. If they can point at behavioral or habit differences, they can then think (and sometimes tell us) that we got cancer because of X and, since they don't do X, they are safe. X can be related to diet or alcohol or exercise or stress or anger management or where we grew up or any number of things--and none of them caused our cancers.

  Fortunately, there has been real progress made in the treatment of lung cancer. Genetic analysis is now routinely done, and various genetic mutations have been identified in tumor cells. There are effective targeted treatments for some of those mutations, and most of these treatments have fewer side effects than standard chemotherapy.

  This is an article from Web MD: 

Advances in Lung Cancer Research

by Stephanie Watson

Lung cancer is the number one cause of cancer deaths among both men and women. But there is reason for hope. Roy S. Herbst, MD, PhD, chief of medical oncology at Yale Cancer Center, recently wrote an editorial about a The New England Journal of Medicine study of the immunotherapy drug, nivolumab (Opdivo) to shrink early-stage lung tumors before surgery. He tells WebMD what makes Opdivo and other immunotherapy drugs so promising, and how these and other new therapies are transforming the outlook for people with lung cancer.

WebMD: Why has lung cancer been so difficult to treat up to now?

Herbst: More than half the time, lung cancer has already spread from the lungs when it’s diagnosed. That makes it difficult to remove with surgery or radiation. And chemotherapy really isn’t that effective for lung cancer. Lung cancer is often resistant to chemotherapy. Immunotherapy offers the benefit of long-term survival and response.


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