Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women, surpassing all other forms of cancer. Tragically, thousands of Americans lose their lives to it annually. Despite alarming statistics, a significant lack of awareness about this disease remains.
So, what is lung cancer?
Normally, cells divide and replicate as part of their regular function. However, certain mutations can disrupt this process, forming masses or tumors in the lung tissue. Although serious health concerns are associated with it, recent improvements in research and therapy have shown encouraging results. This article explores seven key things you need to know about lung cancer treatments and the latest breakthroughs that are changing the landscape of lung cancer care.
- Types of Lung Cancer
- Non-small cell lung cancer: This is the most prevalent form of lung cancer. This category has various subtypes, with adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and big cell carcinoma being the most common.
- Small Cell Lung Cancer: Small Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC) represents a smaller fraction of all diagnosed lung cancer cases. It is characterized by its notably aggressive nature, known for its rapid spread to various body parts.
Other cancers include lymphomas, sarcomas, and mesothelioma that may develop in or near the lungs. Mesothelioma is a unique form of cancer that primarily targets the mesothelial cells lining various body cavities, including those around the lungs, abdomen, heart, or testicles. Exposure to asbestos, a mineral that was formerly employed for construction and other industrial purposes, is thought to be the leading cause of mesothelioma. That said, support is always readily available for those who need it.
There are many support groups for lung cancer if you or your loved ones are suffering from it. Visit www.lungcancergroup.com, where patient advocates, nurses, and attorneys are committed to going to great lengths to assist you in getting the support, seeking justice, and accessing valuable resources you may need to combat lung cancer.
- Early Detection is Crucial
It is well known that lung cancer advances frequently go unnoticed in the early stages. This silence can be its most dangerous characteristic. The cancer may have progressed to more complicated stages when symptoms such as persistent cough, chest discomfort, or shortness of breath appear, making it more difficult to treat successfully. This is where the importance of early detection comes into play. Lung cancer that is in the early stages is not only easier to handle but also far more curable.
Low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) scans are one of the screening techniques that has proven to help detect lung cancer in its initial stages. The process lasts for 15 minutes and exposes you to radiation at a level comparable to that of a mammography. Studies have shown that those who underwent LDCT had a 20% lower chance of dying from the disease than people who chose chest X-rays. This test is recommended for anyone aged 50 to 80 who has smoked for 20 pack-years or more, is currently smoking, or has stopped smoking within the previous 15 years.
- Surgery and Radiation Therapy
When someone is diagnosed with lung cancer, surgical intervention, and radiation therapy are frequently the first options for treatment. Here’s what they entail:
- Surgery: The precise surgical method to be used depends on several variables, including the patient’s overall well-being, the tumor’s size, and its location. Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS), among other minimally invasive procedures, has improved results and shortened recovery periods. Surgery is still the go-to treatment for lung cancer in people who are suitable candidates.
- Radiation: In this technique, high-energy radiation beams precisely target and destroy cancer cells. Recent developments have improved the accuracy and efficacy of radiation therapy, minimizing injury to healthy surrounding tissue. One such innovation is stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT). Its objectives include:
- Slowing the spread of cancer cells
- Easing symptoms
- Shrinking tumors to make them more amenable to surgical removal
Immunotherapy has emerged as a groundbreaking approach that gives new hope to patients, especially those with advanced stages of the disease. Immunotherapy, which uses the body’s immune system to fight the disease, fundamentally differs from conventional cancer therapies like chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Immune checkpoint inhibitors, a family of pharmaceuticals that includes drugs like pembrolizumab and nivolumab, are the cornerstone of immunotherapy for lung cancer. These medications block specific checkpoint proteins found on the surfaces of immune cells and cancer cells. The immune system’s inherent defenses are released by inhibiting these proteins, allowing it to identify and combat cancer cells more successfully.
- Targeted Therapies
Approximately 25% of lung cancer tumors exhibit a specific genetic mutation, a genomic anomaly that fuels the cancer’s growth and can potentially be addressed with existing medications. This therapeutic approach is referred to as targeted therapy.
It is recommended that all individuals with advanced adenocarcinoma undergo genetic testing of their tumors to identify mutations such as EGFR, ALK, ROS1, and BRAF. Drugs like erlotinib and osimertinib target the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) mutations, while crizotinib and alectinib target the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene rearrangements. Moreover, these genetic mutations are more prevalent in specific subsets of NSCLC patients.
- Liquid Biopsies
Liquid Biopsies examine circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) released into the circulation by cancer cells. They can identify genetic variations and mutations by analyzing ctDNA, revealing the biology of cancer.
Liquid biopsies have several important benefits.
- They are less uncomfortable and risky for patients than conventional tissue biopsies
- Since ctDNA reflects genetic alterations from various tumor and metastasis locations, they can obtain a more thorough picture of the tumor’s genetic makeup. This is especially helpful when getting tissue samples is difficult owing to the tumor’s location or other medical issues
- It is useful in monitoring a patient’s response to treatment and tracking the evolution of the cancer over time. Changes in ctDNA levels or genetic mutations can signal treatment resistance or disease progression, allowing for timely adjustments to the treatment plan.
Although lung cancer is still a strong foe, optimism exists. Lung cancer treatment is evolving thanks to advancements in early diagnosis, targeted medicines, immunotherapy, and personalized medicine. Keeping up with the most recent developments and thinking about participating in clinical trials might give patients additional alternatives and raise their chances of survival. The prognosis for those suffering from lung cancer is improving as experts work to understand the complexity of this illness.
Passionate Writer, Blogger and Amazon Affiliate Expert since 2014.