Whats the best approach to finding a cure for lung cancer that works for you? Lung cancer is the most common cause of cancer death worldwide, accounting for approximately 1.69 million deaths annually (WHO). In the U.S. alone, it accounts for approximately 225,000 new diagnoses and causes 160,000 deaths every year. While these statistics are frightening, there’s plenty of reason to have hope for a cure for lung cancer: new treatments and a general reduction in the popularity of smoking mean that lung cancer mortality rates have begun to decline in recent years (UpToDate ). Here we’ll discuss the most common types of lung cancer and their treatments, along with some common-sense measures you can take to reduce your personal lung cancer risk.
ABOUT LUNG CANCER
Lung cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the lungs or airways. Most lung cancers fall into two main categories: small cell lung cancer (SCLC) or non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). These categories refer to the specific type of cell within the lungs in which the cancer originates. Identifying the type of cancer a patient has is a critical first step to a cure for lung cancer. (UpToDate ).
In an advanced state, lung cancer may metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body. You may also hear your doctor refer to lung cancer as “bronchogenic carcinoma” (UpToDate ).
LUNG CANCER RISK AND PREVENTION
You may be wondering if it’s possible to prevent lung cancer; for many people, the answer is yes. While some cases may be influenced by genetic factors or other pre-existing health conditions (such as HIV or pulmonary fibrosis), most lung cancers are caused by smoking, environmental toxins, and other external lifestyle factors (UpToDate ).
Smoking isn’t the only cause of lung cancer, but it is by far the leading one. An estimated 90 percent of all lung cancers are presumed to be caused by smoking, and smoking one pack a day over the course of 40 years increases your risk of developing lung cancer by 20 percent over someone who has never smoked. In short, your lung cancer risk increases the more frequently you smoke and the longer you smoke. The most effective way to reduce your personal lung cancer risk is to avoid smoking (UpToDate ).
Cigars, pipes, and menthol or “light” cigarettes are not safe alternatives to smoking traditional cigarettes, and smoking these products also puts you at risk for lung cancer. Secondhand smoke also presents a significant risk, and accounts for over 7,000 lung cancer deaths amongst nonsmokers every year (American Cancer Society ).
The good news is that you can radically reduce your chances of developing lung cancer by quitting smoking, even if you’ve been a smoker for many years. The longer you abstain, the greater the benefit; some studies indicate that former smokers saw an 80-90 percent reduction in their risk after remaining smoke-free for 15 years or more (UpToDate ). The American Cancer Society offers a wealth of resources if you or someone you love is trying to quit; call at 1-800-227-2345 for more information (American Cancer Society ).
Exposure to asbestos, radon, and diesel exhaust at home or work may also increase your chances of developing lung cancer. If you have to work around hazardous agents, be sure to carefully observe all recommended safety protocols in order to minimize your risk.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LUNG CANCER?
As with most cancers, an early diagnosis will improve the prognosis for lung cancer patients. Unfortunately, many lung cancer cases go undetected until they are quite advanced, which makes them more difficult to treat. Many people don’t experience symptoms in the early stages of the disease, or may write them off as symptoms of other, more benign illnesses. For example, a habitual smoker may experience a persistent cough and presume it to be a natural side-effect of smoking (American Cancer Society ).
Chest pain, a cough, hemoptysis (coughing up blood), dyspnea (shortness of breath), and hoarseness in the voice may signal lung cancer. If you experience any of these symptoms, don’t ignore them and see your doctor right away (UpToDate ).
IMMUNOTHERAPY AND OTHER TREATMENTS FOR A CURE FOR LUNG CANCER
Like every person, every case of cancer is unique. Along with an individual’s medical and family history, doctors will consider the size, location, and molecular properties of a tumor in order to devise a personalized treatment strategy for each patient. Surgery, chemotherapy, targeted radiation therapy, and targeted pharmaceuticals (like bevacizumab) may all be employed to treat lung cancer. (UpToDate ).
Immunotherapy – a type of therapy that utilizes the body’s own immune system to fight cancer cells – may also be used to treat some forms of lung cancer. When you are healthy, your immune system is able to detect and avoid normal cells in the body while identifying and attacking those that are invasive. Unlike diseases caused by viruses and other pathogens, cancer is caused when normal cells that belong to the body grow out of control. Therefore, cancer cells are often able to multiply unchecked because your body doesn’t recognize them as intruders.
A newer class of drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors may be used to “turn on” the body’s natural immune response to cancer cells. These drugs activate a chemical signal (or checkpoint) on immune cells that directs them to attack malignancies and prevent them from growing. Nivolumab (Opdivo), pembrolizumab (Keytruda), and atezolizumab (Tecentriq) are all targeted immunotherapy drugs that may be used as a cure for lung cancer (American Cancer Society ).
If you or a loved one is fighting lung cancer, you may wish to ask your doctor about immunotherapy as a possible cure for lung cancer strategy. Don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion if you’re struggling to understand your options; a consultation from a reputable source (like OncoLogic Advisors) may help to guide you.
Lung cancer is one of the deadliest and most common forms of cancer, but it is also preventable. While there is still no surefire cure for lung cancer, an early diagnosis can improve a patient’s chances of survival. Promising new therapies (like targeted immunotherapy) continue to offer new hope and more options for treatment, and are helping more lung cancer patients to live longer, healthier lives.
WHO (World Health Organization) Media Centre – Cancer Fact Sheet. Februrary 2017.
UpToDate  – Overview of the risk factors, pathology, and clinical manifestations of lung cancer. David E. Midthun, MD. Topic Last Updated: 3 February 2017
American Cancer Society  – Lung Cancer Detection and Early Prevention.
UpToDate  – Cigarette smoking and other possible risk factors for lung cancer. David M. Manino, MD. Topic Last Updated: May 31, 2017
American Cancer Society  – How to Quit Smoking or Smokeless Tobacco.
UpToDate  – Overview of the treatment of advanced non-small cell lung cancer. Rogerio C Lilenbaum, MD, FACP. Topic Last Updated: June 2, 2017.
American Cancer Society  – Immunotherapy for Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer.
cure for lung cancer