St. Rita’s health focus: Lung cancer treatment advances

By Dr. Chris Rhoades - Guest Columnist

Lung cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers throughout the world. In the United States alone, 225,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer yearly with over 160,000 patients dying of lung cancer annually. Lung cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer death in both men and women throughout the United States. The primary risk factor for the development of lung cancer is the use of cigarettes. Ninety percent of all forms of lung cancer are associated with cigarette exposure. The increase in the extent of tobacco use significantly increases the risk of developing cancer throughout a person’s lifetime. More recently, there has been a decrease in cancer deficits throughout the United States primarily associated with the decreased use of cigarettes.

Like most forms of cancer, early detection of lung cancer is associated with increased survival. Finding lung cancer in the early stages is difficult due to the lack of clearly identifiable symptoms. However, recently there has been the development of valid lung cancer screening programs in high-risk individuals. These programs aid in finding lung cancer in early stages in these high-risk patients. Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center is providing lung cancer screening for patients who meet these guidelines. Individuals with possible high risk should contact their primary care provider or Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center for further information.

Therapy primarily to major forms of lung cancer. These are categorized as non-small cell lung cancer and small cell lung cancer. Each of these categories has a difference responsive to therapy and therefore are categorized separately. Small cell lung cancer tends to be more responsive to radiation and/or chemotherapy treatment. The primary form of therapy for early-stage lung cancer is surgical resection. Radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy may also be involved in the therapy of early-stage lung cancer.

In late-stage forms of lung cancer particularly stage IV lung cancer has metastasized to areas outside of the lung or chest, are considered treatable but not likely curable even with aggressive therapy. The primary form of treatment for advanced stage IV lung cancer has been chemotherapy treatment.

Over the past year, there has been a dramatic change in the options of therapy for advanced stage IV lung cancer. Treatment of advanced lung cancer has significantly increased in pace with several new treatment options having been approved by the FDA. The most exciting area of development and treatment of advanced lung cancer is the form of immunotherapy.

Nearly 80 percent of all forms of lung cancer are non-small cell lung cancer. The FDA has recently approved several new immunotherapy options specifically for the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer. Immunotherapy defers as compared to more conventional standard chemotherapy treatment. Standard chemotherapies are aimed at controlling rapid dividing cancer cells. However, immunotherapy has three basic concepts of treatment effects that differ from standard chemotherapy treatment. The first is to help the body to identify cancer as being foreign to the body by the immune system. Second is to aid in the immune responsiveness against cancer. And finally, to decrease the inhibition of the immune system against cancer that allows for tumor cell growth. The development of specific molecular genetic analysis of each tumor cell as individual cancer has dated the development of new immunotherapy treatments that are now

available. These new treatment options are still considered palliative therapy, but they represent a significant advance against the fight against lung cancer. With further research and clinical trials, there is hope of further development of treatments that will produce long-term survival and hopefully be considered a curative therapy for this devastating disease.

And finally, the development of the immunotherapy is now crossing into the treatment of other forms of cancer besides lung cancer. The pace of research and development in cancer therapy has significantly increased with research into the individual characteristics cancer in each individual patient. In the future, most forms of cancer will be identified by the molecular and genetic codes which will lead to specific therapies for each individual. The development of immunotherapy is the initial beginning of an exciting time in cancer research and personalized cancer care.

By Dr. Chris Rhoades

Guest Columnist

Dr. Chris Rhoades, oncologist at Mercy Health

Dr. Chris Rhoades, oncologist at Mercy Health

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