I wish him well and I applaud the transparency and the fact that he shared his personal story with the American public.
Lung cancer affects over 234,000 patients per year and it continues to be a leading cause of death for many Americans. However, over 80,000 patients survive this disease. The challenge, however, is picking up these cases early.
Risk factors for lung cancer are multiple. Smoking accounts for over 80 percent of all the cases in the US. Other factors include second-hand smoke, family history of lung cancer, environmental exposures and genetics.
One of the challenging aspects of lung cancer is, as I said before, early diagnosis. Many early stages of lung cancer do not exhibit symptoms and some of the symptoms sometimes get confused with other upper pulmonary conditions such as a cough that doesn’t go away or a dull pain in the chest. However, as the cancer is more advanced, patients do complain of back chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing up blood or in the mucus and hoarseness in their voice.
As the cancer advances to other organs, patients may experience loss of appetite, weight loss, joint pain or fatigue. The diagnosis is made through a physical examination and the use of a CT or positron emission tomography (PET) scan.
The types of lung cancer are described as non-small cell lung cancer – which is the most common type; small cell lung cancer and lung carcinoid tumors. Many times, the success of treatment is predicated on the type of cancer diagnosed after a biopsy.
There are targeted approaches to therapy, which literally fall into three categories: Surgery, which removes the cancer tumor; chemotherapy and radiation.
There is a new subset of treatments called monoclonal antibodies and they specifically work targeting the cancer cells and interfering with the tissues around the cancer area. There are other molecular drugs which prevent the blood supply into the tumor from growing and deprive the cancer cells from surviving.
All of these new approaches have allowed many patients to survive, however, it is important that a well-established cancer institute discuss the treatment options for you.
As I look into the different clinical trials being offered by different universities, I strongly feel that lung cancer is one area where we are winning the war on cancer.