With over 200,000 new cases diagnosed each year, lung cancer is the most common and the leading cause of death from cancer in both men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society projects over 140,000 people will die from lung cancer in 2019 and the majority of those diagnosed are 65 years or older. World Lung Cancer Day is observed each year on August 1 and aims to educate and inform the public about signs and symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, risk factors, and prevention of this increasingly common cancer.
While smoking remains the leading risk factor for lung cancer (80 percent), exposure to other carcinogens, such as asbestos, also contribute to the number of lung cancer diagnoses each year. In the mid-20th century, asbestos use was rampant throughout steel mills, power plants, chemical plants, electrical facilities, shipyards, and construction jobs because if its unique insulating and fire-proofing characteristics. While many of these industries today no longer use asbestos, the latency period between initial exposure to asbestos and a cancer diagnosis can span decades, and those exposed 20 years ago or more may now just be experiencing lung cancer symptoms. Since airborne asbestos fibers are easily inhaled, it becomes trapped inside soft tissue and organs, such as lungs, causing inflammation and scarring. Tumors form as the once normal cells begin to change and cluster together, damaging the surrounding nerves and tissue and impairing the overall function of the lung.
The risk of lung cancer is expected to rise between 0.5% and 4% for each year that a person is continually exposed, making the duration that one is exposed to asbestos one of the most important factors in determining lung cancer due to asbestos exposure. Smoking plus asbestos exposure increases the risk of developing lung cancer five or more times than smoking alone.
Survival rates of lung cancer will vary based upon the stage in which the cancer is diagnosed, and other factors such as general overall heath, smoking, and asbestos exposure. However, the overall five-year survival rate is approximately 17.7 percent. In the last few decades, immunotherapy has become more prominent – playing a vital role in the future of treating cancer. The purpose of immunotherapy is to boost the body’s own immune system, so cancer can be fought in a more natural way. This is done by either stimulating the immune system to attack cancer cells, or by giving the immune system a man-made “boost,” (often a type of protein) to kick the immune system into high gear. One of the latest FDA approved treatments for non-small-cell lung cancer is Keytruda (pembrolizumab), a checkpoint inhibitor that regulates immune function by restoring T-cell activity.
Research and Funding
Despite the fact the lung cancer causes more deaths each year than colon, breast, and prostate cancer combined, it is severely underfunded. According the CDC, in 2010 breast cancer research received $19,000 in research funds per cancer death from the U.S. government. Lung cancer research, by comparison, received only $1,800 per death in funding. Advancements in chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and other treatments for lung cancer would not be possible without proper funding that allows the scientists and researchers to investigate hypotheses’ and experiment through clinical trials. World Lung Cancer Day attempts to spread the message about lung cancer and help the public understand new research, breakthroughs in treatment, and provide hope to patients and their families. Organizations like the American Lung Association, the Lung Cancer Research Foundation, and the Lung Cancer Foundation of America are just a few research networks that fund and support scientific innovation through award and grant programs
LungCAN, “Research and Funding” [Link]
American Cancer Society [Link]
Liz Highleyman, “Keytruda Improves 5-Year Survival for People with Advanced Lung Cancer,” Cancer Health (June 5, 2019). [Link]