Lung cancer is still the leading cause of cancer death for adults in the US. But clinicians and researchers are making inroads against the disease. Recent progress and challenges in the field include:
1. Smoking – A dramatic decline in the number of smokers directly relates to clear evidence that smoking causes lung cancer and the significant restrictions placed on cigarette advertising. Nevertheless, about 20 percent of teenagers and young adults continue to start smoking. They represent future lung cancer cases. Stronger legislation is required to prevent more teenagers from starting to smoke.
2. Screening – Lung CT (computed tomography) screening detects early-stage lung cancers and saves lives of former smokers. Since the CT scans can show noncancerous abnormalities for more than 20 percent of patients, careful interpretation is required to avoid unnecessary surgeries. Improved screening tools in addition to CT scans are also necessary.
3. Surgery and Radiation – Surgical advances and the use of stereotactic body radiation allow even patients with serious COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) to benefit from effective treatment of early-stage lung cancer. Which technique is better for the individual patient and why some early-stage lung cancers are not cured remain challenges.
4. Cancer Genetic Mutations – Vastly expanding technology allowing the rapid analysis of tumor DNA has revealed that some mutations are the main drivers of a small percentage of lung cancers. Drugs that specifically target these mutations can allow for far better results in advanced lung cancer treatment. Ongoing challenges are to ensure enough tumor tissue is obtained at biopsy to enable testing for an increasing number of mutations, then to identify the right drug for each mutation.
The multidisciplinary team at the North Shore-LIJ Cancer Institute’s Lung Cancer Center works to ensure that issues ranging from smoking cessation to meticulous review of CT scans to clinical trials are evaluated and available to our patients.