World Lung Cancer Day
Today is World Lung Cancer Day, providing an opportunity to raise awareness about the risk factors and patients’ outcomes of this deadly and debilitating disease and review the prevention measures and treatment options that help reduce the global burden. And since severe respiratory symptoms mark Covid-19, lung cancer is an aggravating factor for the virus.
Lung cancer is responsible for nearly 1 in 5 cancer deaths, according to the World Health Organization. While lung cancer and breast cancer are diagnosed at the same rate (11.6 percent), lung cancer kills more people yearly than breast, colon, and prostate cancers combined. It is the leading type of cancer in the world, with more than 2 million cases and 1.7 million deaths in 2018. The number of cases is expected to reach 3.5 million, with an annual death toll of 3 million worldwide.
While most understand that smoking is the single most significant risk factor for lung cancer at 80 percent of all cases, other lesser-known risk factors include environment and genetics. Environmental exposure to radon, asbestos, arsenic, beryllium, and uranium has been linked to lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer also increases with a history of cancer in another part of the body, age, family history, radiation to the chest area, and lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Access to screening options and education is vital for early detection and treatment. Low-income countries, where survival rates are significantly below the average, report only a 15 percent availability of treatment through public health systems. More than 90 percent of high-income countries report vital access to care.
Lung cancer symptoms include a change in mucus, chest or back pain, coughing up blood, and difficulty swallowing. Tests that may be used to diagnose lung cancer include chest x-rays, CT and PET scans, bronchoscopy, and needle biopsies.
If you are a current or former smoker and over the age of 55, you may be a candidate for a low-dose CT scan screening that can potentially detect lung cancer in its earliest stages.
Current Treatments for Lung Cancer
The two main types of lung cancer are small-cell lung cancer and non-small cell lung cancer (the most common type). As with other types of cancer, different stages of lung cancer -from early diagnosis to advanced forms of the disease - require different treatments.
Surgery is performed to remove cancer tissues, while chemotherapy uses chemical compounds designed to limit cancer growth or eliminate it. Radiation therapy is used to kill cancer cells with high-energy rays. Another treatment consists of targeted therapy with customized drugs directed at specific biomarkers. These types of treatment can be chemotherapy or immunotherapy, the latter using antibodies that can target the tumor or support the immune system to kill the cancer cells.
Despite treatment availability, however, and depending on the stage at which the lung cancer is diagnosed, the overall five-year survival rate of lung cancer ranges from 6% when cancer has metastasized, to 60% when it has not.
- Review the risk factors for lung cancer: It is important to remember that anyone can get lung cancer. The best way to reduce your risk for the disease is to take steps to avoid exposure to the dangerous substances most likely to cause it. Risk factors for lung cancer include smoking, exposure to radon gas, air pollution, and secondhand smoke.
- Learn about lung cancer screening: A new screening, a low-dose CT scan, is now recommended for individuals at high risk for lung cancer and has the potential to improve lung cancer survival rates dramatically. A person is considered high risk if they are between 55–80 years old, have a 30 pack-year history of smoking (this means 1 pack a day for 30 years, 2 packs a day for 15 years, etc.), and are a current smoker or have quit within the last 15 years. If the estimated 8 million Americans at high risk for lung cancer were screened, about 25,000 lives could be saved.
- Join the fight against lung cancer: Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in the U.S. You can make a difference by contacting your elected officials in Congress and urging them to support more research for and efforts to protect people from lung cancer.