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4 things you didn’t know about lung cancer

Traditional radiation exposure vs. Proton radiation exposure

SPONSORED — Each year, worldwide, more people die of lung cancer than any other type of cancer. In fact, according to the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer, the disease accounts for 27 percent of all cancer deaths — more than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

With numbers like that, chances are you know — or will know — someone diagnosed with lung cancer. Since November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, there’s no better time to brush up on your knowledge of this devastating disease.

It’s not just about smoking

If you thought lung cancer only happens to those who light up two packs a day, think again. Although smoking is by far the biggest risk factor for lung cancer, nonsmokers can develop the disease as well. The American Cancer Society reports that as many as 20 percent of the people who die from lung cancer have never smoked or used tobacco.

Furthermore, the majority of lung cancers are diagnosed in people who have never smoked or former-smokers. Other causes for lung cancer include secondhand smoke, radon gas, air pollution and gene mutations, to name a few. That said, if you are a smoker or use tobacco, the best way to prevent lung cancer is to stop immediately.

It’s not a death sentence

Go back a couple of decades, and the prognosis for lung cancer was poor, with few patients surviving until the first anniversary of their diagnosis. That’s not the case anymore, with major advances in immunotherapy and surgical and radiation techniques. These advances have made survival rates for non-small-cell lung cancer (the most common variety) much higher.

In fact, according to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Proton Therapy Center, five-year survival rates for lung cancer stages 1 and 2 are in the 55 percent range. That said, overall lung cancer survival rates, which are currently about 29 months after diagnosis, are still not as good as they should be.

Treatment side effects impact survival rate

If you’re diagnosed with lung cancer, you may be treated with any combination of surgery, radiation, or some form of chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapy. The majority of patients with lung cancer require radiation as part of their treatment at some point.

Recent studies have highlighted the impact of side effects due to radiation on the heart, especially in the setting of lung cancer treatment. Therefore, there is increasing emphasis on delivering radiation treatment effectively to the cancer while minimizing, or eliminating, any dose exposure to the heart.

New treatments offer hope

While survivorship is improving with lung cancer, the side effects of traditional lung cancer treatments may negatively impact survivors. This has lead to modern treatment approaches heavily focusing on enhancing the safety of these treatments to simultaneously improve length and quality of life.

Radiation treatment advancements include IMRT and proton therapy, which are highly targeted forms of radiation delivery that can significantly reduce the cardiac and vital organ dose for some lung cancer patients.

More information is available

A lung cancer diagnosis can be scary — and confusing. If you or a loved one has lung cancer — or any other type of cancer — and you are interested in the latest techniques and treatments, contact Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Proton Therapy Center at 206-306-2800.

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